Why do USB cables make such a difference?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Cartma, Jul 17, 2017.
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  1. GrussGott
    Much appreciated for the insights Amir - I'd love to see this kind of thing continued because ...
    The bummer with this hobby is that it's so full of blowhards, dinks, schills, and arseholes, that any topic creates two camps with the loudest arseholes carrying the flags.

    I suppose that's inevitable as it's a niche hobby and those are gathering points for the insecure ... nevertheless there's no getting around a fact: the hobby is part objective and part subjective.

    Everytime we get a legit question like USB cables (one component of a complex system) some wee-schlong shows up claiming to have definitive answers; as if that's even possible.

    Instead let's ask good questions, collect anecdotes, leverage tests, and see if we all can't contribute to a collective analysis without resorting to resume trumpeting and name calling.

    I think Amir is really helping move us along - he hasn't been treated fairly in some places, but then neither have they.

    Wouldn't it be great if we could all set that aside and focus on the question?

    Amir, any and all DAC/USB analysis in your $50-$300 range is greatly appreciated.
    amirm likes this.
  2. bigshot
    This forum is regularly invaded by blowhards and dinks who want to foist their subjective impressions on us just because they know we won't like it. Stick around and you'll witness the waves of audiophool trolls for yourself.
  3. Glenn Adema
    I know they do make a huge difference... Can only and simply say.. Just replace a copper usb/spif or interconnect or speaker cable with a silver one and you will be a believer.. However the unbelievers love to shout as there is no proof given in tests which for them is enough to claim this.. Fortunately some audio lovers experience things for themselves before believing and hey.. If you buy or borrow a silver cable you can always bring it back.. Discussion closed.
  4. castleofargh Contributor
    the lack of proof is the reason not to make claims. you do it wrong with your empty claim, then explain it wrong.
    it's also important not to throw all cable types in the same bag like you do. this is a USB cable topic, not troll fiesta special.

    for a first post, I'm not going to lie, it's bad. if skepticism troubles you, and you really don't get why when a test doesn't prove what you want, you shouldn't go claim it's real anyway, then I invite you to go make your cable preaching there: https://head-fi.org/forums/cables-power-tweaks-speakers-accessories-dbt-free-forum.21/ it's a DBT and ABX free sub section, much more appropriate for your post. in this "sound science" sub section we care about objective evidence to decide that something is happening or not. or listening tests but only when they are controlled enough so that we can put some level of trust in the results. and then we try to determine if our anecdote which is usually what an individual gets when testing his gear, may relate to more than that one anecdote. maybe not your cup of tea and that's alright, this is why the forum has various sections. so people can discuss in the appropriate one for them.
  5. bigshot
    This is probably a fake account. Newly created. One post tossing a lit torch into Sound Science. If you can do an IP check, you'll probably find that it's a regular poster on HeadFi with another account. (and an axe to grind.)
  6. GrussGott
    I would argue that you either didn't well articulate or don't understand skepticism and science: Enough people experience the phenomenon for us to conclude some is happening - that's settled. What we need to skeptical about is any given explanation. For example, Newton's Law of Gravity doesn't fully explain gravity, and we can be skeptical that he's fully modeled gravity, but it doesn't mean we don't all experience gravity. Further, while Einstein's general theory of relatively most accurately explains gravity, we still don't know the cause ... but we all still experience gravity.

    In short, the phenomenon is real, it's the explanation we should be looking for.
  7. old tech
    Some of the more recent discussion is so far removed from sound science that it is questionable why this thread isn't sent back to where it originated.

    The article in the link below presents good information on why this topic is audio woo.

  8. bigshot
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  9. Don Hills
    In this particular section of Head-Fi we start with the most likely explanation, being the already proven phenomenon of people believing they hear an audible difference when there is no actual difference. If you wish to argue otherwise, you need to provide falsifiable evidence to prove your argument.
    sonitus mirus likes this.
  10. gregorio
    You are confusing "experiencing" with "knowing".

    You appear to be doing the same! Just because "enough people experience" something does NOT make it a "real" phenomenon. As bigshot stated, the consequences of such a correlation fallacy is that you logically have to believe in ghosts, magic, a flat earth, that there are no aural or visual illusions only real phenomena, plus any number of other things some people have experienced AND you have to discard logic, the obvious, provable demonstrations that experiencing and real phenomena do not necessarily correlate and indeed the reason why modern science was developed in the first place!

    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  11. bigshot
    Has anyone noticed that these folks come in pairs? Just like socks.

    Who are "they" and how has Amir been treated unfairly in some places?
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  12. castleofargh Contributor
    you're going too fast. you believe we have evidence, but where? on this topic? I've seen a few measurements telling me I wouldn't notice the stuff they were looking at in my normal listening of music. I have my own tests(admittedly only with USB cables for normies) where I tried a bunch of things from less than ideal blind test, to less than ideal measurements. and aside from a defective cable, and one that was specific for charging a high power stuff and clearly didn't have the usual electrical specs(very different impedance and such), I didn't get anything telling me I should bother with USB cables for my music.
    on the other hand, I have all of human history to demonstrate how easily people can be fooled into believing things that aren't there.
    so about
    I'd say I'm really not here yet. vague feedback from vague experiments are never going to be conclusive. sighted tests with close to zero controls and not even a reliable way to tell that what the guy feels comes from sound, that's very vague and I'd only settle on not trusting such feedback even from myself. so from dudes on the web... no thank you very much. skepticism here is just common sense really.
    it all comes down to placing the right amount of confidence on ideas, experiences and the conclusion we draw from them. but for that to be done, we need to have clear ideas, and clear experiences, or we're really just wasting time. nobody is going to be able to prove or disprove a vague thing. which in turn should be the signal that we cannot make claims about it(you know that old tradition of claiming stuff after we have evidence of it, instead of before ^_^). but most audiophiles seem to be missing that signal. maybe because of ignorance, too much ego, the need to gloat, or just the need to try and justify spending a fortune on cables that may or may not do exactly the same thing as a 15$ one... IDK. but they do a lot of claiming based on gut feelings and one off anecdotes. 2 elements I don't remember seeing mentioned as highly conclusive in the scientific method.

    maybe sometimes, 2 cables under some circumstances end up making a huge audible difference. but so far, people really sucked at documenting such events. so not only don't we know that the conditions were standard, most of the time we can't even know if it happened or if some guy just went full on placebo. so no it's not settled.
    but later when/if we get evidence that basic usb cable is in general not good enough for audio, we'll be able to move on to other questions like "why", or "how do you check that a cable is better than another one?". we just aren't there yet despite the loaded title of the topic.
  13. amirm
    Oh, we have a very clear and provable explanation for why people report improvements in fidelity with these cables. The answer lies in the way we experience things. Our impression of fidelity is formed by many factors, with sound just being one factor. To wit, we can run experiments where A and B are identical yet listeners report them as having differing fidelity. In that regard, there is no sense in chasing the unknown. We know a priori that sound waves did not change.

    In other words, the experimental protocol that people use is the problem. Once you have a faulty experiment, you can't assume the data is valid and then look for a real explanation.

    If we had proper test results that showed real audible differences then I for one would be happy to look for the right explanation for it. :)

    Indeed this inability to run proper tests in audio has led to any and all things being valid. No matter how useless a device I can guarantee that there will be people who "hear improvements. You give me anything, a pencil, a rock, a thumb tack, anything at all and I can run experiments with audiophiles that indicates it has a sonic improvement. Surely logic would indicate that there are some things that make no difference at all. Yet the type of experiments we run as audiophiles doesn't allow for that.
    JaeYoon and old tech like this.
  14. Glenn Adema
    First let me say im not a fake account or anything.. Just replied incorrect in the wrong section as im new on headfi. However, as a sys admin for 19 years I know what frustrate people with these kind of claims. We claim it for ourselves but since there is no proof whatsoever we shouldnt post it to an audience in this way. I personally do think that as long as there is no science to proof that different usb cables do sound different, the only thing we do have that is relevant is feeling, however feelings and rational claims often dont go well together. Some of us hear differences, enjoy music better with a specific type of cable, yes we think and feel we do. Furtermore we as a group also feel we are sane and want to response when others say we are not. Also when we enjoy music more due to a specific cable (we think we do), we start to feel better etc. Then we want to share our finding as we think it makes our lives better and for some reason we care about others. I think thats summons most of it. As for music, feelings are all that matter. Its far from rational and maybe not right in this section but as no one has any proof that it does sound better it simple doesn't sound better in a rational matter (as there are many test that summarizes with 'no changes detected'). To say that it does doesnt make any sense without further commenting. Fully agree on this.. Again The stupid thing with music is that it isnt rational. Therefore its impossible to post anything on this matter as there will always be 2 camps. Camp 1 that cannot hear any difference nor find good solid tests that might get them to reconsider. Camp 2 that believe they can hear a difference and share this with others having the same findings when in this case changing a usb cable (like more solid bass, mid, air, relaxed whatever). They say in their turn.. How can it be that when changing a usb cable we as a group do hear exactly the same changes and how can it be that those changes are mostly identical to what the brand says the cable does. Are all of us stupid or easy to be manipulated people? In this case we tested audioquest. This is enough for camp 2 to claim that it does make a difference. The camp that i belong to. Again thats why we will always have camp 1 and 2. As a sys admin i believe to be a more rational person than the average man. But still... Camp 1 would now say... Again this itsnt a real claim so please consider posting this kind of replies elsewhere as this is a rational place. Camp 2 would response and say: for us it is enough proof. And so we spent more money on buying what others might say is plecebo stuff and will be fully happy doing so.. Have a good day as I now will continu claiming and solving cases in the rational world of IT, thank god (lol).
  15. castleofargh Contributor
    we're pretty comfy with electricity by now, and the behavior of a passive component such as a cable is really not on the list of mankind's unsolved scientific mysteries. of course different cables can have different electrical properties, and of course said properties when pushed too far in a given direction will have consequences on the complete electrical circuit that may in turn change the output signal. it was never a matter of can a cable change the sound, but when can a cable change the sound? and are those circumstances normal circumstances? and will it be audible?

    all I can say is that USB cables have specs, those specs are defined for the standard with small tolerances to make manufacturing reasonable. so we can either have a USB cable to spec which will of course never be much different from another USB cable to spec and the discussion can end there.
    or we can have fully out of spec USB cables and then whatever happens is a mystery because we're outside the USB standard and we shouldn't.
    the rest is about the user's environment, a small cabin lost in a valley might not require the shielding and grounding precautions of a device standing between high voltage cables and cellphone relays. again we need to estimate what we consider normal. and the last unknown of course are the devices plugged on each side of the cable. even if a vast majority of USB devices use the same chipset, different DACs are still different DACs with different designs and specs. the cable that allegedly makes the soundstage better for one system, is absolutely not ensured to do the same on different gears. I've said that before, but we're dealing with electrical circuits, not with Lego.

    as for practical experience and logic:
    some will find a turd DAC so unstable and poorly protected that any change results in a different sound. and they will be very happy to come and say they have proof that USB cables change sound audibly.
    some will buy all the crazy audiophile special cables with cryogenic treatment and virgin tears for shield, and again when they end up with one so out of spec that it really impacts the signal, but not enough to create errors breaking the connection, they will come convinced they have proved the audible impact of USB cables.
    and then you have people like myself who would conclude from an audible difference between cables that at least one of the 2 cables was bad. so I would try to measure what I can and get rid of the lemon. but I wouldn't come on the forum telling everybody how they should buy some fancy and expensive USB cable.

    same experiences, different ways to jump to conclusion ^_^.

    in the end those who really care should consider that for a cable the best you can do is have it be to the proper specs for the dedicated use, and have it short. the rest IMO will only matter under specific circumstances and we shouldn't generalize over specific circumstances.
    we don't want special cables, we want very standard cables because the gears we use were designed to be plugged into very standard cables with very standard electrical specs. that is the usual and general state of things IMO.
    old tech, Arpiben and Intensecure like this.
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