Massive USB Comparison Test

The debate around the value / importance of USB cables is a tense one in the audiophile world with some people swearing that the cable makes no difference and others believing it does. I personally sit in the second camp. I believe, based on listening to many different USB cables, that the cables do actually make a difference. I have also found that the cost of the cable has no bearing on whether or not it sounds better and personal preferences will also play a part in this question.

This review is a bit different to some others I’ve done. This time around, the wonderful crew over at AudioQuest have loaned me one of each of their USB cables from the entry-level Pearl all the way to the top of the line Diamond that costs more than most headphones, amps or DACs. I have also thrown into the mix some cables I already own just to make sure there is some multi-brand, market context to this test.


Before I get into any details about the cables, let’s cover off on how this review was done. I don’t believe in A/B/X testing for this type of test. For one, it is very difficult to quickly switch between USB cables without having two identical setups and I don’t have those kinds of resources. Secondly, I find that ear fatigue kicks in way too quickly on those types of tests leading to good results early in the test and rapid declines later in the test. This adds an additional variable to the test and negates the value of the A/B/X testing.

Instead of A/B/X testing, I have approached this subjectively. Each cable received a solid 10-15 minutes of listening time with me taking notes and making observations about the qualities of the sound that I noticed for each cable. At each changeover, I repeated the same song in order to hear similarities and differences from one cable to the next before allowing a range of tracks to play so as to reveal wide-ranging characteristics in the sound of each cable.

When it comes to testing cables, I always look at it in terms of which cable(s) I want to go back to after extended listening. It’s easy to get caught up in what one does better or differently to the others, but what really matters is which one is the most enjoyable (and by what margin) so that’s my ultimate test – which cables are the most enjoyable additions to my already immensely enjoyable setup.

One final point: if you are a dis-believer that USB cables could make a difference because USB audio is digital, please check out the video I posted on that topic before continuing as it will help to clarify why some of the cable technologies used by various manufacturers should actually make a difference.

Test Gear

The following setup was used for this test:

For all cables, I will list their price (as new from Amazon) for a 1.5m cable.

On with the test…

Generic Cable #1 (black)

  • Audioquest USB-1579Cost:  free with every USB device ever purchased
  • Connectors:  standard metal (I’m not actually sure what they use for generic cables – nickel?)
  • Technologies:  none

It’s important to start off by saying that the sound from this cable is completely fine. If this were the only cable I had, I would still be happy, but I know from past experience that there are benefits to be found with upgraded cables so I’m using this as a baseline for what follows.

Generic Cable #2 (clear)

  • Audioquest USB-1577Cost:  free with every USB device ever purchased
  • Connectors:  standard metal (I’m not actually sure what they use for generic cables – nickel?)
  • Technologies:  none

This cable is another generic cable that came with a printer or similar device, but this time it has a clear insulation that shows the silver-coloured shielding underneath. I definitely didn’t expect any difference between two generic cables with no special technologies to speak of, but I was shocked to find that the sound from the clear cable was actually more enjoyable than the black generic cable. Instantly, the clear cable had a sense of clarity and definition to it that was more appealing than the black cable. The black cable sounded a bit flat and blunt in comparison.

I didn’t really trust myself on this one so I switched back and forth on the same track and each time I found myself enjoying the sound from the clear cable more than the black cable. The guitars sounded a bit crisper and more tactile, the vocals sounded a bit smoother and there was a slightly greater sense of space between me and the music which made the music overall more enjoyable.

Lesson: if you have multiple generic cables, try a few difference ones – you might find one that sounds better than the others!

AudioQuest Pearl

  • Audioquest USB-1568Cost:  $28.75 (USD)
  • Connectors:  gold-plated
  • Aesthetics:  black with white pinstripe, fairly stiff


  • Solid, long grain copper conductors: designed to reduce interference created within multi-strand conductors
  • Directional conductors: designed to optimise the flow of noise away from the DAC towards earth
  • Solid, foamed polyethylene insulation: designed to hold the conductors firmly in place within the outer insulation. This is important to create an optimal magnetic field between the signal leads and therefore prevent interference between the conductors. Foamed polyethylene is a very efficient and cost-effective insulation because it creates very little interaction with the conductors

At this price, the Pearl might as well be free – it’s very cheap for an aftermarket audio USB cable, but I have to say that the difference is striking when compared to the generic cables. First and foremost, the Pearl recreates the sense of space that I enjoyed on the clear generic cable. It still has a sense of clarity, but it’s not quite as sharp as the clear generic cable. At first take this could seem like a negative, but the clear cable’s sound actually became a bit fatiguing after a while whereas the Pearl was consistently enjoyable even after long periods of listening.

To summarise the sound from the Pearl, it is smooth and clean with a good sense of space. It instantly proves itself to be a better option than the generic cables and is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a budget upgrade to your USB audio system.

AudioQuest Forest

  • Audioquest USB-1565Cost: $38.75 (USD)
  • Connectors:  gold-plated
  • Aesthetics:  black with green pinstripe and plug accents, fairly stiff

Technologies (over and above the Pearl)

  • Solid, 0.5% silver plated conductors: designed to reduce interference created within multi-strand conductors and improve conductivity at the conductor surface (where most of the signal travels) through the use of silver plating
  • Hard-cell foam insulation: further improves the stability of the audio signal conductors. This appears to refer to the internal conductors as the website refers to foamed polyethylene on the cable overall.

The jump from the Pearl to the Forest is a little less significant than the jump from the generic cable to the Pearl. That said, there is an improvement in the sound. What I heard was a slight increase in clarity, particularly around the treble, but it doesn’t get edgy like the clear generic cable. In fact, the Forest presents a sound that is at once crisper and smoother than the Pearl. It’s a subtle improvement, but it’s there and for only $10 more, the Forest seems a better option.

AudioQuest Cinnamon

  • Audioquest USB-1567Cost: $78.75 (USD)
  • Connectors:  gold-plated
  • Aesthetics:  black weave with dark red accents, fairly stiff

Technologies (over and above the Forest)

  • Solid, 1.25% silver plated conductors: designed to reduce interference created within multi-strand conductors and improve conductivity at the conductor surface (where most of the signal travels) through the use of silver plating – the higher quantity of silver means that even more of the signal travels via the higher quality conductor

So jumping from the Forest to the Cinnamon brings an increase in silver-plating thickness, but is otherwise only cosmetic. I was curious to see if that increased amount of silver would actually make any difference… and it did.

I don’t fully understand the physics behind it, but there is no doubt that the increased silver content in the Cinnamon created a more open sound with greater clarity, but not any additional treble / harshness to the sound – it just all got better – noticeably. There’s no significant shift in the sound signature of these cables, each one just builds directly on the sound of the lower model, improving it incrementally, but noticeably. It’s nice to see that, so far, every extra dollar you spend does bring noticeable benefits.

The Chord Co. SilverPlus

  • Audioquest USB-1578Cost: $109 (AUD) – not available on Amazon
  • Connectors:  gold-plated
  • Aesthetics:  white with light blue accents on plugs, more supple than the AudioQuest cables


  • 26AWG twisted pair, silver-plated conductors: it’s hard to say if this is a pair of solid core conductors or a pair of stranded, silver-plated conductors in a twisted configuration. The twist would help to prevent noise, but if it’s stranded that can actually add noise internally
  • High speed low-loss gas-foamed polyethylene insulation: high quality insulation for cables that has less impact on the signal and insulates the conductors well
  • Dual layer high frequency effective shielding: not really described in depth anywhere, but ideally this will prevent external noise from getting to the signal conductors

The SilverPlus sits fairly close to the AudioQuest Cinnamon in both price and features. The features are different, but at a similar overall level as far as I can tell from the somewhat lacklustre descriptions available for the SilverPlus. On that note, kudos to AudioQuest for being so transparent with their designs – they tell you exactly what is going on inside each cable and what features each cable has over the next – you know what you’re paying for (regardless of whether you believe it makes a difference).

The SilverPlus has been my permanent audio USB cable for a couple of years now and I’ve not heard a USB cable better enough to compel me to invest in anything more expensive (or cheaper). I completed a full review of the SilverPlus ages ago so you’re welcome to go read it if you’d like a stronger baseline for this comparison.

Switching from the Cinnamon to the SilverPlus was eye-opening. My beloved champion was instantly trounced! The sound from the SilverPlus suddenly sounded a little soft around the edges. There was a slightly better sense of space in the soundstage, but it came at the cost of a noticeable loss of clarity and resolution. I was heart-broken and my wallet was instantly terrified. The SilverPlus is still a great cable – don’t get me wrong – and I would choose it over many more expensive competitors on the market, but not the AudioQuest offerings. In fact, I would choose the ‘cheaper’ Cinnamon over the SilverPlus at this point.

AudioQuest Carbon

  • Audioquest USB-1569Cost: $168.75 (USD)
  • Connectors:  silver plated
  • Aesthetics:  black weave with charcoal accents – very stealth, fairly stiff

Technologies (over and above the Cinnamon)

  • Solid, 5% silver plated conductors: even more silver means that more of the signal travels via the higher quality conductor
  • Carbon-based, 3-layer noise dissipation system: shields the shield of the cable to further prevent the ingress of noise (RFI, etc.) into the ground plane

The research I’ve done on DACs and digital audio has made me very aware of how important a clean ground plane is in digital audio. Because it acts as the reference for every calculation of voltage in the digital audio system, the cleaner you can keep your ground plane, the cleaner your audio will sound thanks to the prevention of significant amounts of jitter and noise. The Carbon USB is a big step in theory because it not only ups the ante on the AudioQuest technologies so far, but it introduces a whole new technology. So, does the doubled price tag bring a double increase in sound quality?

Now, it’s impossible to measure quantities in sound so that was a poor choice of words, but I’m not going to edit it. Instead I’m going to answer it by saying that I can’t measure the sound, but I would absolutely buy the Carbon over the Cinnamon if I had the cash. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the Carbon is a noticeably superior cable. In fact, the jump from the Cinnamon to the Carbon is easily the biggest increase I’ve heard so far, including the jump from generic USB cables to the Pearl / Forest cables.

Connecting the Carbon USB to my system brought a depth and timbre to my music that I haven’t heard before from my system. It was like going from an average MP3 rip to a beautifully mastered, lossless high-res file – I was instantly addicted. There was more space in the sound, both in the overall size of the soundstage, but also in terms of the space around each instrument / sound. I can only assume that this is a result of the better isolated ground plane allowing every sound to be more accurately rendered by the DAC with no hash / background noise to muddy the end signal.

Once again, the signal is unchanged in its overall character / signature, but everything just got clearer and more open.

iFi Mercury

  • Audioquest USB-1576Cost: $254.38 (USD)
  • Connectors:  gold plated
  • Aesthetics:  black weave with silver plugs and black silencers, supple like the SilverPlus


  • Heavy OHFC continuous cast copper: the many terms for various types of copper become confusing and interchangeable after a while to the lay-person (like me) and unfortunately, this description doesn’t clarify if the Mercury uses a stranded or solid core for each conductor. Continuous casting is good because it means there are no “boundaries” where one copper crystal ends and the next one begins, but it doesn’t stand out as better in any way than the cables we’ve looked at so far
  • Dual copper and aluminium shielding: designed to maximise the range of frequencies shielded to prevent as much noise as possible
  • Metal oxide ceramic RF noise silencers: adjustable silencers designed to maximise cable noise resistance
  • Foamed polyethylene insulation: as per the other cables in this comparison

The Mercury is another USB cable that I personally own and it comes at a higher price tag than the incredibly impressive Carbon, but it does offer some interesting features that are unique in this comparison. The adjustable silencers are an interesting feature. In my experience, the silencers always end up in the exact same positions – one at each plug (as recommended) and the middle one dangling pretty much in the middle of the cable where the weight of the cable hangs. Moving the silencers has no noticeable impact on the sound. Given that there are very definite differences caused by some of the features already discussed, I would expect to hear at least some subtle changes as I move the silencers along the Mercury, but the reality is that nothing noticeable happens.

Other than the apparently redundant silencers, the sound from the Mercury is quite nice, but very flat. As soon as I switched from the Carbon to the Mercury, I felt like I’d lost the realism of the sound – everything became 2-dimensional and lost the “soul” that was so exciting to hear through the Carbon. In fact, I have for some time now preferred the much cheaper SilverPlus over the Mercury for this very reason. There’s no doubt that the Mercury is a good upgrade on generic USB cables, but I believe it’s outclassed in this particular comparison. Some people will really like the slightly brighter sound of the Mercury and it’s emphasis on width over space, but I would personally stick to the SilverPlus, Cinnamon or Carbon before the Mercury.

AudioQuest Coffee

  • Audioquest USB-1556Cost: $348.75 (USD)
  • Connectors:  silver plated
  • Aesthetics:  black weave with dark brown (coffee) accents, fairly stiff and with a fairly bulky DBS unit hanging from the type-B (DAC) end

Technologies (over and above the Carbon)

  • Solid, 10% silver plated conductors: even more silver means that more of the signal travels via the higher quality conductor
  • 72V Dielectric-Bias System (DBS): creates an electrostatic field to stabilise the insulation for uniform impact on the signal. All insulation has some effect on the signal, but a non-stabilised insulation can effect different frequencies differently and can ‘smear’ the sound. The DBS aims to prevent this.

So, another doubling in price and another entirely new technology (in addition to higher silver content). Will the results be equally as impressive?

Before I answer that question, I want to state that I am going in sceptical. The DBS seems a little gimmicky to someone like me without the physics expertise to fully appreciate how significant the interaction between insulation, conductor and electrons may actually be. I guess what I’m saying is that I was expecting a subtle difference or no difference as I swapped from the sublime Carbon USB to the Coffee.

So, the answer to the question is a very unsatisfactory “maybe” when it comes to whether or not the improvement from the Carbon to the Coffee is as impressive as from the Cinnamon to the Carbon. This is a much harder one to pick which, in itself, suggests that the improvement isn’t as dramatic. But… as I flicked back and forth (as quickly as is possible) between the Carbon and the Coffee, I couldn’t help but feel like the Coffee brought with it a slight increase in resolution thanks to a smoother overall sound. Signature-wise, the cables continue to be identical, but the Coffee seems to sound just a little more effortless and a little more lifelike than the Carbon.

At this point, the extra money starts to become harder to justify I think. If you have the budget I would probably recommend the Coffee, but if you needed to save your clams for other purchases, I believe most people would be completely happy with the Carbon and an extra $160. In fact, that got me thinking… is it better to buy a Coffee USB or a Carbon USB with a couple of JitterBugs?

AudioQuest Carbon + JitterBug vs AudioQuest Coffee (only)

  • Cost of Carbon USB + 2 x JitterBug: $266.25
  • Cost of Coffee USB:  $348.75

I reviewed the brilliant little JitterBug separate from this review and while I have used the JitterBugs for this whole review so far (to test the cables with minimal interference from the noise from my computer), but now it’s time to see if a step up in cables or a couple of JitterBugs make a better investment.

Moving from a JitterBug-free setup with the Coffee USB, I then swapped to the Carbon USB, but added a single JitterBug (with the Carbon connected to it). There’s no doubt that the addition of the JitterBug significantly reduced the gap between the two cables, but there is still a smoothness to the Coffee that the Carbon/JitterBug combo can’t quite match. The Carbon/JitterBug sound still has just a slight edge to it in comparison that makes the cymbals sound less realistic and masks some of the mid-range timbre you can hear when using the Coffee. Time to add a second JitterBug to the Carbon setup…

So now, with two JitterBugs plus the Carbon USB, things are sounding pretty great, but it still doesn’t quite catch up to the Coffee. When I switch from the Carbon/Twin-JB combo to the Coffee there is no doubt which sounds better, even with the extended delay of switching off the DAC, disconnecting, reconnecting and powering up again. The Coffee has a mid-range quality that the Carbon just can’t match, even with a couple of JitterBugs in support. The JitterBugs definitely help, they just can’t close that gap completely so the verdict here is simple. If your budget is sub $300, stick with the Carbon, but throw a Bug or two into the mix. If you can stretch to $350, don’t even hesitate – go for the Coffee and if you can add a JitterBug or two then all the better.

AudioQuest Diamond

  • Audioquest USB-1552Cost: $695 (USD)
  • Connectors:  silver plated
  • Aesthetics:  black weave with white / silver accents, fairly stiff and with a fairly bulky DBS unit hanging from the type-B (DAC) end

Technologies (over and above the Coffee)

  • Solid, 100% silver conductors: a pure silver conductor is about as good as it gets and this is a huge jump from 10% silver plating in the Coffee to 100% silver content in the Diamond

We’ve doubled the price again, but this time the added technology list is much shorter. That’s not a criticism of the pricing though because the increased cost of pure silver conductors compared to 90% copper conductors makes sense. The question though for me is whether or not the increased cost of the materials results in an equally improved auditory experience.

This is the most interesting comparison of all the cables I’ve tested I think because there is once again a significant change in the sound between the Coffee and the Diamond cables, but at first I found myself preferring the sound of the Coffee because it has a slightly greater sense of warmth and a beautifully focussed mid-range. Switching back to the Coffee though left me longing for the space I heard with the Diamond. With the Diamond USB cable, the soundstage stretches right out to each side whereas the Coffee brings it all in a bit tighter resulting in greater focus on the mid-range and the centre of the soundstage.

In a way I prefer the slight warmth of the Coffee, but then I wish for the same sense of openness and full-range clarity that the Diamond presents so it’s a really hard one to split here. I think the conclusion for me is that the Diamond is probably the cable I’d choose in an unlimited budget situation, but I could be equally satisfied with the benefits brought by the still-outstanding Coffee USB in the event that $700 seemed like too much for a cable. There’s no doubt in my mind after this comparison that the Diamond is the best cable of the bunch and is a worthy upgrade from the Coffee. The only question remaining will be budget and that’s a very personal thing.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

Audioquest USB-1560This has been one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written (in terms of the time it took to write). It’s taught me a couple of interesting things that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. Even a “cheap” cable from a reputable cable company can improve your USB audio. But…
  2. Not all USB cables are better than the generic ones or cheaper options from other companies – do your research
  3. Some of the technologies that can sound like snake oil and voodoo actually do work (and it’s best to let your ears be the judge even if you think it’s hogwash)

So, with all this said and done, let me wrap up by saying that my conclusions from this review are quite simple. Buy the best USB cable you can afford and justify because it will improve your system. I wouldn’t recommend spending more on the cable than the DAC / amp / headphones, but the cable can help to prevent noise from reaching your DAC so even a cheap DAC will benefit from a USB cable upgrade. In fact, a cheap DAC will generally handle noise worse than a better DAC so the cable may be even more important.

To my mind, a proportional spend on the cable compared to the DAC makes some sense from a purely financial perspective. For example, I don’t think I could justify the cost of the Diamond USB for my DAC which costs roughly the same, but I am quite happy with the idea of the Coffee at roughly 30-50% the price (depending on exchange rates, etc.) That’s a very personal equation so don’t take it as a rule so much as an idea. Having now had the chance to compare every option in the AudioQuest range I also have no problems fully recommending their USB cables. I started this test expecting to see a dramatic display of the law of diminishing returns, but I can honestly say that every cable in their range demonstrated a significant improvement over the lower model so you can safely spend whatever you’re comfortable with and know that you are really getting the best value for money with the AudioQuest range. I can’t necessarily say the same for some of the other USB brands I’ve tried over the years.

I hope this review has helped clarify the somewhat murky waters of USB audio and USB cables specifically. Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions I can help with.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer


  1. Gary Gendel
    September 1, 2016

    I’ve been an audiophile for a very long time and have seen a lot of hype in just about every part of the audio chain. From an engineering standpoint, it all boils down to the RC time-constant, impedance matching, and shielding.

    There is a point where lowering the RC value provides no benefit. Bottom line is that if the wire size is big enough so the overall conductance path has a low enough resistance, then the signal can be considered digital for this purpose.

    Shielding will block noise, as will routing the wires away from noise sources. Keep in mind that radiation drops at a square rate with distance. You don’t have to get far away before most noise is negligible.

    That really leaves impedance matching. In the mismatched case, there will be a reflection from the destination termination back towards the source termination. If it is reflected again from the source termination, this reflection will be added to the signal as noise. For example, if the mismatch caused 10% of the signal to be reflected at both ends, then it will add back 1% of the reflected signal to the current incoming signal. The current USB specification requires adherence to specified impedance values so matching should not be a problem.

    If we were talking about very high sampling rates, then we would also have to consider differences in the lengths of the routes when driving using the differential lines. However, at the sub-MHz samplng ranges we’re talking about, it’s not likely to be a problem for audio.

    Some CD players had a similar problem as the platter motors added considerable jitter. To get around this some manufacturers would over-sample to locate each sample’s timing sweet spot. The one that I have over-samples at 8x, virtually eliminating almost all jitter-induced errors.

    Without a true double-blind evaluation, tests are only subjective and as such have minimal merit. For example, the same argument was held for speaker wires which led to the explosion of exotic and expensive speaker wire manufacturers. Then a double-blind study done by Nelson Pass concluded that, once the resistance was low enough, all wires were equal. I personally, use 12-gauge stranded wire (typically used for outdoor 12-v lighting) that cost me 8 cents per foot (it’s a bit higher now, but I still have a lot of my 1975 bought spool left).

    I don’t reject that there may be sonic differences that you may find between cables but these may be marginal in the RC or shielding areas. Unlike analog, there isn’t any bandwidth coloring since the sample rate is fixed. Without proper measurement with the right equipment we’ll never know.

    • September 1, 2016

      Thanks for the comment, Gary.

      As a non-engineer audio enthusiast I find this topic continually fascinating because both sides – those who believe that cables make no difference and those who promote the benefits of higher end cables – have compelling reasoning and logic behind their claims. That was the main reason for my desire to complete this comparison. Despite using an aftermarket USB cable, I entered with a healthy dose of scepticism, particularly in relation to the much higher priced offerings from AudioQuest so when my auditory experiences went directly against my expectations I knew that something was going on.

      I can’t explain it and won’t attempt to, but I have no doubt after completing this comparison that something is going on that makes all USB cables not equal. The trick is filtering out the irrelevant features (like the iFi ferrites) from the impactful features and without any consensus from the engineering world I think us consumers have to use (and trust) our ears.

  2. Simon le Bon
    October 13, 2016

    @lachlan If you trust on your ears, you don’t need your eyes to decide which is the best cable. Please take us (your readers) serious, and prove your scepticism by doing some blind tests.

    • October 13, 2016

      Thanks for your comments, Simon. I take my readers very seriously which is why I often mention my approach to reviews (I can’t recall if I discussed it specifically in the USB review). There are plenty of people out there delivering blind test and scientific reviews. My blog is based on the experience of the music and sometimes the perception of a setup may contribute to the overall experience and that’s OK. That said, I try to be completely transparent with all my reviews and share my thought processes and expectations going into each review so it should be clear if there is any beginning positive or negative bias. For example, I honestly expected little to no improvement from the DBS modules on the AudioQuest Diamond and Coffee cables so I went into the listening test with a strong negative bias. The fact that my negative expectation bias was shattered by my experience offers a valuable perspective (in my opinion). Based on my expectation I should have heard no difference so in some ways you could argue that my resulting experience is more valuable than a pure bling test because the cable’s performance overcame a starting handicap. Anyway, I’m not debating the value of blind tests, I’m just sharing my reviewing philosophy and the reason I’ve chosen to leave the blind tests up to others who are already doing fantastic work with the objective data. I’m glad you enjoyed the review despite the different approach I take. 🙂

  3. Simon le Bon
    October 13, 2016

    @lachlan Oops… forgot to mention I liked this review, despite it lacks blind testing, it was a good read.

      September 27, 2017

      Simon: it’s an even better listen -if you care to experiment/can discern such blatant SQ distinctions.

      I honestly thought such sentiments expired about the same time as the dinosaur extinction -oh wait, I meant the last ice-age. No, I meant when it was discovered the world was not flat. No wait, some likely remain unaware … lol. Too funny.


  4. Chris Moore
    April 9, 2017

    This review simply demonstrates a total ignorance of digital technology. A USB cable imparting “warmth” and “space”? Preposterous. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about analog cables in this realm. But digital? It just doesn’t work that way. It’s completely impossible for a digital cable to impart subtle changes to the analog signal encoded in the ones and zeroes it carries. Anything above $10 for a USB cable is throwing your money away. Sorry to be harsh but study up a little on digital technology and you’ll discover your ignorance for yourself.

  5. ck
    May 15, 2017

    If I have a destop PC, in which a poor cable is already connected between the motherboard and the USB outlet port.Then, noises already get into this section of cable.Whatever how good a USB cable I use, it is no way to improve the signal.

    • May 17, 2017

      Hi CK, this is a common problem. Do you have any USB sockets hardwired into the motherboard? If you do, I would switch your audio output to one of the hard-wired ports and use the ports connected by a fly lead for data applications which benefit from the cross-checking of the signal at each end. If you can’t switch output sockets, perhaps try an AudioQuest JitterBug or similar type filter to help. USB power isolators can also be very helpful I’ve heard. Finally, in my experience, a decent USB cable will still improve things even if the earlier circuit is poor (i.e. the cable from the motherboard to the socket). Obviously this isn’t ideal as the circuit is only as good as its weakest part, but a decent cable can at least prevent further degradation when the signal moves from the USB socket to your DAC.

  6. peter jasz
    May 17, 2017

    Nice review. Honest. Passionate.

    However, since you did not reference whether you actually “burned in” the cable (running a signal through them for 100-150 hours), the results perceived with the higher silver content cable (specifically the all-silver Diamond) could not be even close to ‘absolute’.
    Too many years (lol) with silver cables (IC’s Spkr. wire) revealed the propensity for some to take painfully long ((500-1,000) hours of run-time’ before they finally settled. Most consumers, if not reliably informed wold have give up long before 1,000 hours.
    BUT, if they were patient, look out: the linearity, speed, resolution/transparency, nuance, dynamics and most importantly the tonal realism attainable was truly exceptional.
    I suspect the AQ’s “DBS” system minimizes this break-in process, but I still believe 50-100 hours must be invested before listening comparisons.

    I’ve learned a long time ago, that absolutely every component in a higher resolution sound-system (good mid-fi qualifies) plays a role, and can have a distinct –easy to hear– impact.

    Keep investigating. Never stop. The time will come when concrete “evidence” will surface to explain such phenomenon. But make no mistake, cables can have a profound impact on SQ. Yet, is it always for the better ?

    The impact with after-market cables should be so obvious, repeatable and consistent (and of course immensely enjoyable) that forking over the coin is simply a way of saying “thank-you” for letting me enjoy far more deeply into my music.

    From this point, at times, mesmerizing adventure unfolds. And you will become a better person for it.

    peter jasz

    • May 18, 2017

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your comments! You’re right regarding both break-in and AudioQuest’s DBS system which does even more than break-in can ever achieve to improve the physics of the cable’s tranfer of electrons (I actually contacted them specifically about that question). I must admit that I did not have time to burn-in all cables as thoroughly as you recommend, but was using the higher end cables every day as my reference points leading up to the review so I can confirm that whilst they may not have had the thousands of hours that may be ideal, the combination of regular use in long listening sessions (i.e. 6+ hours per day while I work) plus the DBS modules should equate to a pretty accurate representation of their peak performance.
      Thanks again for reading and for your insightful comments!

      • peter jasz
        September 4, 2017

        Hi Lachlan: I didn’t realize you had replied until recently. Thank you.

        I should have re-read your reply to Thomas Tan -before I replied to TT’s reply ! lol.

        In any case, I find it remarkable (though entirely possible) that the DBS-system does in fact take the dielectric/insulation component out of the equation (when defining ultimate signal transfer), but I wonder how some of the few other excellent cable company’s (Kimber SELECT, Shunyata (E-tron series), Wireworld “7” (silver-series) etc.) would compare to AQ’s DBS system ?

        If AQ’s are clearly superior, then perhaps their claim of the DBS is entirely valid. However, if the ‘competitor’ cables are comparable, then there must be some other factors involved (understanding full well that winding topology, conductor quality/size, and even size/shape of the finished product) that defines superior signal transfer.

        To me, other than being an exercise in technology, it matters not how it is achieved, but rather if great sound quality is experienced.
        For example (although I just started my “Streaming” music journey (Raspberry Pi 3B with Moode/MPD OS), the addition of the excellent AQ ‘Carbon’ has proven a remarkable addition; offering up truly exceptional performance.
        I’m not in any rush to consider AQ’s (reference) Diamond USB cable.
        I’m certain a loudspeaker change/improvement would/should be considered first.
        However, it wouldn’t be the first experience of mine to continually be, amazed at the level of performance that remains available with ones existing system -assuming it’s a worthy contender.

        Once again, I must commend you on a very informative -and compelling- article/review.

        I look forward to many more.

        peter jasz

  7. Thomas Tan
    June 10, 2017

    Thanks for taking the time to write this review, I have an audioquest coffee and quite like it, I don’t have the patience to AB test and rely on me spending time with all my cables for an extended period of time and then decide which one I like. Does the battery thing on the coffee work? what surprised me was when the battery ran out and there was a significant difference in sound, so much so that i thought there was an issue with my dac.

    • August 7, 2017

      Hi Thomas, yes, I believe the DBS (battery-powered) units really do work. I had some correspondence directly with AudioQuest about this and their reply was quite interesting about the way the DBS unit could influence the sound more than any amount of burn-in. It all comes down to the influence that the insulating material has on the signal as it passes through the cable. Applying the voltage from the DBS unit changes the behaviours / properties of the insulation and alters this interaction I believe. All I know is it really does sound better. It sounds like you heard it first hand!

  8. peter jasz
    September 4, 2017

    Hi Thomas: Thank you for pointing this out. That is precisely the insight audiophiles find invaluable. Such observations (dielectric polarization battery) on/off is fascinating to me, but also somewhat concerning -for a lack of a better expression.

    The reason is that a “natural” dielectric break-in appears not to happen with the DBS system -encouraging the use/replacement of the battery. Which would not be of great concern if a natural dielectric polarization could not be totally achieved. Yet, we know that a complete ‘break-in’ without electric means is possible. Consider Kimber SELECT’s excellent cable, and Shunyata’s E-Tron (self-polarizing/neutralizing technology) cables.

    Which leads one (at least me, lol) to question whether the DBS system is there simply to eliminate any necessary ‘burn-in’ time (and believe me, that can be an amazing blessing in itself) at the expense of never having the dielectric self- polarize/ neutralize ?

    Perhaps its a moot point. Although quite interesting.

    What I do know is that I recently took the ‘Streaming’ plunge (lol) with a modest Raspberry Pi 3B (running moode/DMP OS), connected to my equally modest Schiit (Modi-2) DAC. Listening to some basic internet radio stations was somewhat disappointing -in fact very disappointing. But then again, the stations were streaming at 128-320 kb/s.

    BUT THEN, I purchased a Audioquest ‘Carbon’ USB and connected; OMG. Instantly (actually a few minutes), a slack-jawed experience unfolded. I could not leave the listening chair. Already 20-minutes late, I couldn’t both “get enough”, nor believe what I was experiencing. I had to check to see if the streaming station was now using a higher stream rate, but no -128 Kb/s ! (Soma FM -Left Coast 70’s).

    Knowing full well I may very well experience some “Burn-In Blues”, this did not happen (not unsurprisingly) for the next 30-40 minutes. In the late evening (at lower listening levels) there definitely was some ‘flattening’ that I believe extended into the next day’s early afternoon listen. But then, a few songs emerged that again, sounded fantastic.

    Although my reply here was somewhat longer than expected, I hope it serves those with a passionate interest who would like some informative and insightful experience from “real” users, such as yourself, Thomas, and the article author’s excellent, thorough review/comparisons.

    May we all enjoy great music and the wealth of magic that it inspires.

    peter jasz

  9. BH
    September 10, 2017

    Excellent write up.

    I picked up some AQ cables two days ago – a pair of Coffee USB cables, a Cinnamon Ethernet, as well as an iFi Micro iUSB 3.0. Using files from a Lacie Rugged HDD, into a MBP (mid 2017) and Roon, out to KEF LS50W.

    Started with only changing the Ethernet cable in between the speakers. Instantly there was more focus and a more defined soundstage more than I would have expected from a system that is already excellent with it’s soundstage.

    Then I added one of the Coffees direct from MBP to LS50W. Resolution improved. Playing ‘Sir Duke,’ which is by far from being the best recorded track in the world, I could more clearly hear the air move and the reverberation around the bass drum. The bass guitar in the post-chorus melody had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. The song was more fun. I completely lost track of trying to hear for the boring audiophile specifics.

    The addition of the iFi Micro iUSB improved resolution even more.

    I will admit, I was a skeptic, but I’m ultimately not paying for this added equipment, so thought ‘let’s try it.’ And I’m happy I did.

    • September 26, 2017

      Thanks for sharing, BH! It’s very hard to imagine cables having a significant impact, but the simple fact that I (and others like you) continue to be surprised suggests it’s not placebo / expectation and is actually really happening. Enjoy your upgraded sound!

      • PETER JASZ
        September 27, 2017

        Mr. Fennen: You are too polite, ” ….suggests it’s not placebo / expectation and is actually really happening”.

        Umm, Hi-Fi mag’s and professionals in the business (including listener’s) have understood this for decades -30 years at minimum. I purchased my first ‘upgraded’ IC’s in 1980/81 -the Audio Technica “Brown” (in fact I accumulated several pairs back then, as in 5-6 lol).

        Once again, great write-up.


  10. Glenn
    September 22, 2017

    Thanks for this very complete nice to read comparison test. I fully believe your findings! Am also using windows audio using a pc. At first my sound was far worse than a mid priced cd player. Then I discovered Jplay and it started to get a bit closer. Then purchased Fidelizer pro and together all went a step up again. But it still wasnt better then a mid priced cd player however the sound now got better then my blueray player. At that point I was using an optical link to connect to my dac. When changing from an internal soundcard to the m2tech evo hiface Clock, Dac, Power supply and usb to coax convertor the mid priced cd player was smashed completely. Also the rasberry Dac pro which I also used went on ebay the same day. However the sound still wasn’t up to the quality of my friends real high end cd player (2500 euro second hand market). So for a year or so I left it all as it was thinking that I needed a lot of cash to get my setup to his level using a PC thinking that it might be impossible to get to that standard as a PC is not so much a dedicated audio machine as a high end cd player is. I even sold my hiface evo stuff and started using my rme uc 8 in and out external sound card as I sometimes record vocals as I hobby of mine. And yes the sound went a step down again although not much as I expected. Then I started using a transparent usb generic cable instead of my printer cable and heard an increase on audio quality instantly (first thinking that I was hearing a placebo effect but overtime learned that this wasn’t the case). So I started reading the benefits of audio grade cables especially audioquest and purchased the 0.75m carbon usb cable as this would be the most value for the money cable. When connecting the new cable I was immediately shocked as my sound completely smashed the sound I heard when using the hiface evo m2tech setup using generic cables but it still didn’t have the room and easy sounding sound of my friends expensive cd player (again I need to stress that his unit is priced around 8000 euro (2500 euro second hand)). Then I started to think more and more that the weakest link will define the final sound we hear… So, I bought 4 jitterbug, one connected to the usb cable to my soundcard, one in my router and 2 in my other usb hubs (1 per hub) and it all went a step up again. Again less harness and more relaxing to listen to. At that point I bought a dedicated usb 3 pcie card as this card is not using the cheap integraded usb cables nor does it share anything as it is used as a dedicated device. Furthermore usb 3 can address far more stable power to a device then usb 2.0. And yes this again was a subtle step up regarding the sound. To futher stabilise the sound I bought a high end power cable for my pc which again creates a step up in quality. Last but not least I was still using a generic coaxial cable from my usb soundcard (powered by the carbon cable) to my dac. So I changed this cable and bought an audioquest 1.5m coffee cable. Connected the cable and my wife and I were instantly shocked. What a big difference this was. All harsh sounding tones were gone and I mean all!!! Furthermore we got a space and detail back that I never heard before and yes, finally exceeded the 8000 euro cd player in terms of total sound quality. It all seems to be more quiet en relaxing to listen to than the expensive cd player without losing any of the details and brightness. My next investment will be the m2tech hiface evo2 products together with the audio pc created by the creator of fidelizer with the linear power supply option. This response is far longer then I wanted to (lol). I you ask me what ive learned over the years I would say that a Dac which everyone says is so important in your chain just isnt true… Most Dacs are fine but the thing that makes a Dac sound good is a good signal to it and a good cable from it and not so much the Dac itself (a 500 euro Dac should be just fine whether its vendor a or b) My question is… I am now using the usb carbon together with the coffee coax cable. Will I gain a lot replacing the carbon usb with also a coffee or should I save a little more and buy the diamond interlinks cables between the still to purchase hiface evo2 Dac and amplifier? (Now using the integrated Dacs of my Denon acs1sr amplifier which are still going strong after 12 years). Glenn

    • September 26, 2017

      Hi Glenn, that’s a really hard question to answer! My experiences with cables would suggest that both upgrades would be valuable – which is more valuable is impossible for me to know. Also, I can only partially agree with you about DACs being mostly the same having noticed significant improvements going from the outstanding Matrix X-Sabre to the even-more-amazing Schiit Gungnir Multibit (Gumby). There’s no denying that the improvement was subtle, but it’s definitely an upgrade. Anyway, your other point about the importance of the signal chain to / from the DAC is extremely important. That said, I think the answer comes down to which part of the chain is currently the weakest in your opinion. Are your current interconnects between the DAC and amp likely better or worse than the Carbon USB? If worse, I would upgrade the interconnects before the USB. Ultimately though, the Coffee is a significant upgrade over the Carbon USB so if you can find a way to upgrade both the USB and interconnects I think you’ll be glad you did!

      September 27, 2017

      Excellent. Detailed.Passionate. Accurate!


  11. Boris
    September 26, 2017

    Cute article, but total fantasy land. Binary code with CRC error detection is totally same with any decent cable (1€/m). Use a cable to transfer few gigs of files to your USB stick and then back, compare the files. Not a single byte will be different with any cable used.

    Try running your tests blindly and in few consecutive days, you will get just (statistic) noise, pardon the pun :).

    • September 27, 2017

      Hi Boris, your point is 100% true for data transfer, but (based on my research) audio streams do not undergo the same error detection as data transfers. Because audio is being output by the DAC as it is received there is no opportunity for this cross-checking and that is where the issue of jitter arises. There are many articles around the internet about the science behind jitter. John Swenson (highly respected engineer of DACs, etc.) has written at least two very informative articles on the matter.

      • PETER JASZ
        September 27, 2017

        Hi Lachlan: For folk such as Boris (who clearly know everything) your offer of educating remains thoughtful and considerate. Yet, for those with such a naive understanding -parading as knowledgeable, should be thrown to the curb until such time when some respect (and common sense) become evident.


      September 27, 2017

      Boris, Boris, Boris: Understand, appreciate and respect that there are many (from all over the world) that take the difficult and lengthy time to engineer spectacular products.
      McDonald’s hamburgers, entry-level auto’s and wine will always be suitable (in fact some would say no different) to the connoisseur stuff. Such is the nature of human experience and expectations.


      September 27, 2017

      Boris: You condescendingly state, quote:

      ” Cute article, but total fantasy land.”
      “Not a single byte will be different with any cable used.”
      “Try running your tests blindly and in few consecutive days, you will get just (statistic) noise”

      What in the world are you trying to say then ?

      For sure, some cables (even from respected AQ) should NOT be made; offering a cable at every “penny” price-point is nothing but a foolish marketing scheme. For goodness sakes, company’s should offer up a simple entry-level model, and then onto clearly superior constructed and performing cables, starting with the AQ ‘Carbon’ and moving up from there, as they’ve done with the next two models up.

      In any case, there are easy-to-distinguish audible differences in near any/every cable you may wish to evaluate -throw-in and after-market.


  12. Gary Gendel
    September 27, 2017

    Lachlan, Though I agree in general about audio streams and error correction, this is not always the case. Early on, some CD players used oversampling to fix common errors. My old Yamaha player does 8x oversampling and processes neighboring samples to correct for dropouts and jitter issues, then it re-clocks the stream to provide a jitter-free result to the DAC. Many high-end DACs perform a similar process so cable introduced jitter (within reason) can be completely removed.

    Thanks for keeping the discussion lively and upbeat.

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