USB Cable

I'm considering upgrading a generic 5 meter USB from pc to DAC.   Opinions please on DH Labs Mirage vs Transparent Audio.  Has anyone had an opportunity to compare  in a quality system?


I honestly do not know, you can start a new thread and conduct a poll. Million dollar or inexpensive music streamer/server…they all have a processor at heart. The premise here is, a general purpose PC is not optimized or optimal for audio streaming. You can add fiber or filters as alluded by @antigrunge2 ahead of a DAC to reduce noise but a general purpose PC will never sound as good as dedicated streamer designed specifically to stream audio. Fortunately, there are plenty of decent choices out there at all price points.

What is a computer or streamer doing? It gets the bits from one end to the other. If it is using a guaranteed network delivery protocol, then we are not losing bits.

So, all streamers should sound the same, no they do not. The streamer device connected to the DAC does add some sonic flavor to the sound. However, my argument is that the optimization of a computer for streaming is doing a couple of things. It is lowering the noisy internals found in a computer and it is adding some flavor to this clean sound.

In my case, I say spending on an optimized streamer to reduce noise is an expensive way to this. A simple fibre optic cable just before the DAC (which is all that matters) will also kill the noise. A simple test with Ethernet vs Fibre on most DACs will show the difference. Now adding an expensive streamer after the Ethernet input and then output AES, USB, et al into the DAC should be as clean as the fibre I advocate for.

You spend much more money to do this but gain some convenience. That convenience will be very important for most, but I am very comfortable with this type of things.

I recently had 3 streamers that got the stream from a cheap DELL computer (placed in another room) that I compared side by side and they sounded different. This is the cream of the crop streamers:

  • Sonore OpticalRendu
  • Lumin X1 (sold it)
  • PlayBack Designs Streamer-IF

The sound was great on all. The Lumin was louder, the Sonore was quieter, and the PBD was shocking to me. I have not been able to use the PBD with fibre yet because I do not have the PlayBack Designs Dream DAC yet.

I have been using the PDB with a Benchmark DAC3B via SPDIF input. That also sounds great. What I think is happening is that there must be some fibre inside the PBD streamer. The guy who makes the PDB is considered a digital genius. Using fibre would be a genius move.

PDB designs has now come out with a very expensive streamer. Let’s assume I am mega rich and can afford it. I would not buy it over the demo $2K Streamer-IF I now own,

@yyzsantabarbara streaming is not bit perfect.  File transfer is.  but music can't use bit perfect FTP.

Let me start with a disclaimer: my system is modest in comparison to those of others who have responded to this question. A move to a smaller home 10 years ago forced me from my multi-component tube based Counterpoint system, fully upgraded by Mike Eliot, to the single box solution offered by Devialet. Since then, I have been using the DAC built into the Devialet.

RE: recommendation that you consider going to a dedicated streamer: I streamed digital files through computers for 15 years. I built each of my music server computers - all small form desktops, operating from a position on the stereo stand, that I controlled using a remote keyboard. I payed careful attention to power supplies (always linear), removal of all extraneous OS features and background functions, etc. I believed, undoubtedly mistakenly as there always is work to be done in the garden, I was as close to an optimal dedicated streamer as one could get, at the time I built each of them. A couple years ago, for reasons unrelated to sound quality and system performance, I replaced the computer with an Aurender N200. In my system and to my ear, the Aurender was an upgrade well worth its price. 

RE: cables. I’ve owned and enjoyed several sets of Transparent analog ICs, but I can’t speak to the performance of their digital cables. I’m a long-standing fan of DHLabs, who offer, I think, tremendous bang for the buck. So, when I decided to upgrade my usb cable, theirs was the obvious first step. In my system and to my ear, compared to the Pangea it replaced, the cable significantly tightened the bass presentation and sound stage, and improved tonal qualities at the top. 

One final note. I agree with the recommendation that you try to shorten the length of your USB cable. About 40 years ago, I read a review of Von Gaylord chinchilla ICs published in International Audio Review by Peter Moncrieff. In the course of his review, Moncrieff observed that the 2m cables sounded better than the shorter or longer lengths. Now, at the time and from anyone else, I would’ve dismissed such a suggestion as nonsensical. But, I had had quite a bit of experience with Moncrieff by then and had come to respect even his most unlikely observations, of which there were many. So, a couple of friends of mine and I contacted Von Gaylord and asked that they send lengths of their chinchilla cable ranging from 1-3.5 meters. After extensive listening, we came to the same conclusion as had Moncrieff. Still today, all my analog and SPDIF cables are 2m. So, when I decided to experiment with usb, I naturally started with several lengths to compare. In my system and to my ear, the 1m DHLabs usb sounds better than the 1.5m and 2m.

Good luck with your project and have fun with the process.

A really crappy, like the free ones can, and I have measured them, introduce measurable noise in a system. Audible or not is subjective. BUT, a well designed client USB receiver is immune to that kind of problem.  If you are running USB mode 1 then varying cable parameters in off-spec crap cables may cause jitter issues as you are using the source clock.  Run USB mode 2 asynchronous, and no more problem.  Data is buffered and ALL timing is in the client side. 

A lot of even expensive boutique DACs have crap USB receivers, so a "correct to spec" USB cable may well improve the sound.  Band-aid for an old  client.  Boutique companies do not always have the time and budget to stay up on fast moving technology. Some of the USB issues were not well understood 10 years ago. 

A USB-1 spec cable should be more than enough bandwidth for audio, but most cables meet at least level 2 spec. If USB-c on BOTH ends, it will need to meet the level 3 spec for reliable data rate.   Look them up.  A to C who knows. 

 If you have a DAC without galvanic isolation and you believe some garbage is getting in, you can get a perfectly good AMD Galvanic isolator board from Amazon or E-bay for $12. You can get the same transformer in a boutique box for $400 and every price in between. No ground loops. No source ground or power noise injected into the client. 

An exception is if the client is powered from the host USB.  In some cables the 5 and gd are not shielded so noise pickup is possible but probably trivial compared to the crap a PC puts on the line. Isolators are designed so you can inject high quality power on the client side. Again problem solved with science.  I do not know all cables, but Belden stock is two pairs shielded with an overall.  Monoprice may not be. China Inc?  Your guess is as good as mine. 

The USB interface is well defined and respectable companies like Belden make cable certified to the spec. I keep mentioning them because I know them. That does not exclude the hundreds of other raw cable manufacturers.   No magic needed.

Using asynchronous mode,  It can't effect timing, resolution, space, air, attack, presence, blackness, or any of the "your system is not resolving enough" excuses.  Against the laws of physics.  

You can pick up and inject noise over the 5th connection. The outer shield. Again, a well designed receiver will reject this, but so will a 49 cent ferrite on the cable. 

There is a maximum spec on USB cable length but not a minimum. Some have suggested ring-back on a short cable can cause jitter of the bits.  The physics are correct and you can measure this, but it has not been shown that a correctly designed receiver has any issue with bit to bit accuracy into the buffer. 

So, to "deniers"  there are situations where it can or could have caused a problem.  To "believers" you may be hearing the difference between crap and correct, may be hearing a band-aid for a different problem, or may be hearing because your brain said if you spend more it has to be better.   Whatever makes you happy.  If that multi-color braid over Chinese bulk cable for $400 makes you happy, go for it.  Maybe they were nice enough to use 8723 as their stock so you do get a good cable. 

FWIW, a steamer is just a smaller PC with fewer applications running. Maybe it has a cleaner power supply, and maybe a cleaner USB port.    If you are using the PCM ports, then better hope it has a much better clock, but I notice the newer DACS are also buffering and relocking PCM so even that becomes moot.   Or is that mute :) Go streamer because you want the user interface which is configured for media. Not for magic.  I use a PC because I am old and don't have a phone attached.  I also like being able to adjust the OS and player parameters where in a streamer, they make it easier by doing that for you. Hopefully the best choices. Some of these parameters can make a big sonic difference. Bits are bits but what you do with them matters. 

Summary. Using USB mode 2, it's nothing but a transport to move bits from one memory buffer to another. There are ways to mess that up. Engineering helps. magic and money don't. The spec is reliable.