The following comment is NOT intended to spark yet another debate on whether cables make a difference in sound quality.  It is merely a report on what MY ears heard on a particular system and offered only in case someone else might want an opinion on this comparison. Thanks.

Spent an enjoyable day at JS Audio (Bethesda, MD) who kindly allowed me to not only audition the new Wilson Alexa V speakers, but to the point of this discussion, compare a Nordost Valhalla 2 and Cardas Beyond USB Cable.  The source was a MacPro notebook running Audirvana with ripped CDs and downloaded CD quality files.  The amp/preamp were Boulder and as stated the speakers were the new Wilson Alexa V.  The speaker cables were Nordost Valhalla as were the interconnects.

Two DACS were used:  Chord DAVE and a dCS Rossini. 

To the point: The Nordost was clearer, more articulate, better timbre, "faster" and had a better soundstage with more separation of the musicians/instruments, regardless of which DAC was used.  The music was a collection of orchestral classic, orchestral "modern" classic, jazz, organ classics, brass ensembles and guitars (classical). (No vocals, pop, rock, metal). The Nordost revealed the venue better.  On the other hand, the Nordost was unforgiving of poorly recorded tracks.

With the cardas my comments regarding the speakers were harsh-- bright trebles, articulate without excitement or visceral character, no engagement, distinct bass that lacked timbre or character of say a tympani or double bass, clinical if you will accept the term.  I was surprised and disappointed at a system near $200,000.  Then we switched the USB Cable. The Wilson's change character becoming both articulate and tonally more accurate, transparent and not harsh or grating in the treble.  The bass remained articulate but now had some fullness and character.  Nothing other than the USB Cable was changed. 

As an aside, with the Nordost cable, the DAVE seemed to equal the Rossini in terms of clarity, articulation, tonal character and timbre, etc.  I had pondered "upgrading" to the Rossini, but couldn't hear enough difference in the musical presentation to justify the move. 

Perhaps this comment will be useful to others.  Hope so. Stay safe and healthy and enjoy the music!

Curious, honest question. What did the stock, generic cables sound like in comparison? 

When I discovered Nordost Flatline cables some 30 years ago, I was a fan. Why? For custom installs...Thin as a dime to slip under carpet without a trace... could be concealed in a wall with minimal patchwork, insulated with with tight Teflon jacket....fireproof. When Nordost went uber high end with MyBlueHeaven, Valhalla, etc...they lost me. The CES demos had gotten ridiculous. No interconnect is worth $15,000. Ever. Period.
edge wound:

I compared a generic USB Cable to the Cardas on my home system prior to the test described above.  The difference was truly "night and day" in that the generic cable presented a veiled, "mushy", cloudy sound without articulation, a small soundstage, poor separation between instruments, etc. Detail was lost.  Of course, until I actually A/B'd the cables, I did not realize "what I was missing." 

I will compare the Nordost to the Cardas on my home system this weekend recognizing that my home system probably does not have the resolution of the extremely expensive Wilson system. I will post these results over the weekend along with a description of my system.
I believe in cable differences.  I have heard the differences that different USB cables can make.  I have listened to a number of USB cables, though not a large number.  I use a custom made cable with solid core silver wires wrapped in Teflon and shielded carrying the digital signal.  My DAC doesn't require a 5 volt connection, so my cable only has three wires.  The Nordost written of here costs $3500 for a meter.  Just ridiculous.

I was wondering if you could list your system equipment.  I assume in order to tell the difference in USB cables, one needs to have a fair highly resolving system.
Please see the second part of this review which unfortunately, I had to post separately because I could not add to my initial post (or at least I do not know how to do so)...  Thanks
@andy2 The difference between USB cables is surprisingly evident even with pretty modest systems such as my own. Last fall, I was loaned some USB cables and got some cheaper USB cables for comparison as I have been in the process of building a digital front end for streaming (vinyl diehard for the last 32 years & have never gotten any sort of decent CD player). This is my digital signal path:

  • Local digital files on a USB flash memory stick >
  • Project Stream Box S2 Ultra >
  • Audioquest Jitterbug noise filter >
  • [USB cable] >
  • Denafrips Ares II DAC >
  • DH Labs White Lightning RCA interconnects >
  • Creek 4140 integrated amp >
  • Nordost Flatline Gold speaker cables >
  • Monitor Audio Silver 300 speakers

Since doing this test, I’ve improved the resolution of my digital signal path with the following hardware changes:

  1. Streaming via WiFi > Ethernet via an Ethernet access point created with a TP-Link RE230 WiFi Extender
  2. AmazonBasics Cat 6 Ethernet cable > Supra Cat 8 Ethernet cable
  3. Denafrips Ares II DAC > Chord Qutest DAC (running off of the stock power supply) > Chord Qutest DAC (running off of a Anker phone bank battery > Denafrips Pontus II DAC

Anyhow, these are the notes of my listening impressions starting with a free USB cable that came with an HP inkjet printer, because if ’bits are bits’ as some like to claim, the cheapest piece of junk cable should sound exactly like a $20,000 cable. When doing cable comparisons, I like to start with a generic cable from a hardware store or a computer store to get a baseline of how my system sounds without any audio "jewelry".

These were the USB cables that I compared:

  1. Generic HP printer cable: Free with printer
  2. Belkin Gold: $15
  3. Pangea Audio Premier SE: $50
  4. Shunyata Venom: $100-200
  5. Stordiau Phasure Lush: $253

Test Tracks:
  • Ballad of the Runaway Horse from Famous Blue Raincoat, Jennifer Warnes
  • Elgar Cello Concerto in E Minor, 1st Movement, Jacqueline du Pre
  • Blue Moon Revisited from The Trinity Sessions, Cowboy Junkies
  • Smoke on the Water from Machine Head, Deep Purple
  • Back in Black from AC/DC Live

Generic HP printer cable:
To say the generic printer cable sounded awful would be an understatement. The sound feels shut-in and veiled. Trailing edge of notes have an overhang. Treble is a bit harsh. Bass sounds tubby

Belkin Gold:
Overall, this cable sounded decent. I'm not surprised that this was on The Absolute Sounds' recommended list in 2013. This would a decent cable to get if you wanted to spend next to nothing as a starting point. Its shortcomings were only evident when hearing the better sounding cables. It seemed to have a balanced presentation with no noticeable lack of speed. The sound seemed pretty transparent. There did seem to be less control of the sound from the strings on the string bass in Jennifer Warnes’ Ballad of the Runaway Horse being plucked. (The Pangea’s better ability to control the resonance from from that provides more drive to Ballad of the Runaway Horse track). Crescendos in Jennifer Warnes’ voice are presented with a nice golden tone. Impact of the guitar is muted on Back in Black due to less clarity

Pangea Premier SE:
I originally thought this sounded clearly better than the Belkin for the following reasons:
  • Easier to hear tonal quality of acoustic instruments than via the Belkin cable.
  • Voices have more presence and color.
  • Better shows tonal color
  • Jennifer Warnes’ voice sounds bigger
  • Much fuller and richer in tone
  • Conveys more emotion due to a better ability to convey tonal and volume changes.
  • Better resolution of tonal colors is really evident when listening to the Smoke on the Water track. That has more pace via the Pangea cable rather than the Belkin cable.
  • Cymbals are easier to hear since the shimmer is presented more clearly.
What I realized with extended listening is that though the sound from the Pangea cable seems more precise than from the Belkin cable, its sound is also more forward and somewhat harsh. As a result, it is difficult to follow and understand individual instruments. The additional detail that the Pangea cable provides over what the Belkin cable provides is not resolved well and it presents music in somewhat of a muddled way.

Shunyata Venom:
This cable was a clear improvement over both the Belkin and Pangea cables. It has better timing than the Pangea on Limbo Jazz along with more clarity & clearer placement of instruments. The Shunyata sounds tidier than the Pangea and thus also has a better sense of pace than the Pangea. The Shunyata has no less resolution than the Pangea but with much less harshness. In fact, it probably has more resolution than the Pangea cable but also with more refinement. The Shunyata also provides more fullness than the Pangea. The crowd cheers at the beginning of NIrvana’s ’Come As You Are’ were more evident with the Shunyata than the Pangea.

Stordiau Phasure Lush:
As good as the Shunyata USB cable sounded, the Stordiau Lush took all that the Shunyata cable did well to the next level. It has both better resolution and pace but also with more fullness, smoothness and presence. Interestingly, this cable conveyed the edges of notes better, but also sounded smoother than the rest of the cables. These were my raw notes on the Stordiau cable:
  • More roundness & presence than the Shunyata cable. Timbres are more clearly audible. Joshua Redman’s Saxophone on Chill
  • Most realistic tones
  • Has the pace of the Shunyata but with more detail and resolution of timbres
  • Instruments sounds more like real instruments than representation of instruments. Saxophone in particular has a roundness of tone.
  • Beautiful, organic sounding tone quality to instruments and voices, but still conveyed the edge in Kurt Cobain’s voice better than either the Pangea or Shunyata cables.
  • Most non-fatiguing sound compared to both the Pangea and Shunyata cables

I was lucky that my friend prefers SPDIF over USB. He sold me the Stordiau cable at a very good price compared to the $300 that it would cost me to get a new one from Europe:

This a summary of sonic differences that I heard between these cables costing between $0 - $260:

  1. Better resolution
  2. More presence
  3. Better pace & timing
  4. More realistic tonal quality
  5. More 3-dimensional sound
  6. More precise placement of instruments and voice

@edgewound I'm a fan of the Nordost Flatline speaker cables as well. They sound incredibly fast and transparent. I also got mine in the early 90s when the Flatline Gold cables were more reasonably priced because Nordost was just starting out.

The only downside to using my Nordost Flatline cables is that they are very revealing of any upstream harshness in recordings or my signal path.