Monday, 20 April 2015

PERSPECTIVE: Poll - Upgraded USB and Sound?

I enjoy visiting the Steve Hoffman Forums for perspective. I think it's probably one of the most balanced places to hang out at. Of course, as in any audio forum, there will be a number of heated arguments here and there, but overall, it's great to see a place where heterogeneous music lovers of various experience levels and beliefs can congregate, share tips, and get advice... It's certainly one of the more vibrant audio communities out there!

Recently there was an interesting poll on whether USB cable upgrades can improve a system's sound quality. Titled "The Great USB cable debate poll" (full disclosure, I took part and posted a comment as well), it ran from February 22 to March 8th before it was closed. In total, it received 415 votes, gathered 36 pages of responses and the outcome was:

About 1/4 felt that upgraded USB cables make a difference, and 3/4 did not. Surprised?

Of course, any poll must be viewed in the context of the respondents. This one was conducted in the "Audio Hardware" forum and like I said, I think the denizens of this site does capture a broader group of audiophiles and music lovers than most places; from pros to reviewers to the general music enthusiast. Topics range from people posting pictures of their audio room, to discussion of LPs and turntables, to opinions on the latest DACs, computer servers, speakers, headphones...

I certainly do not expect we should put full faith in something or other based on general consensus. In areas where we are passionate about, of course we should figure things out ourselves and come to our own conclusions... Once awhile, it is nice however to see a poll such as this to get a sense of what the "cohort" thinks. As an audiophile who reads the usual magazines, one might get the impression that there's almost 100% acceptance that upgrading USB cables for sound quality is a "given" within this hobby. Likewise, some might pigeon-hole all "audiophiles" as "audiophools" spending all kinds of money on questionable claims. IMO both perspectives would be inaccurate.

I think it's fair to recognize that most audio lovers are reasonable people even though sometimes it seems like the most fringe and outlandish voices appear to be the mouthpieces of this hobby.

Hmmm, I wonder what the result would be if we asked "Can upgraded ethernet cables at various price points improve the sound of your system?"


Okay, just a quick post here today as I'm working behind the scenes to get another blind test going... More information in the next week or so I hope!

Have a great week.


  1. Funny thread... I would almost join that forum.

    It would be pretty 'easy' to put the matter to rest IMO but involves some travelling, free time and willingness.

    If only one of the non believers would visit one of these guys that hear obvious differences and 'administer' a blind test with enough attempts to get statistical relevance and the permission of both 'parties' to share the findings publicly would be great.

    1. Ah ... scratch that test.

      Chances are someone can actually hear it and it would have to be investigated why (failing equipment)
      ..... or the usual excuses pop up.

      A: Strange, normally I can hear those differences fine but not now.
      B: the stress of this test makes me not hear those opvious differences that I can clearly hear when I am relaxed.
      C: I told you blind tests are flawed.
      D: I am tired of listening out for cues so made mistakes.
      E: at last I HEARD the differences correctly half the time.
      F: I DID hear it correctly but my preference was for the wrong xxx in some cases.
      G: Sometimes I didn't listen long enough and missed the cues.
      H: I can really only do it when listening a whole evening without the constant swapping.
      I: Not enough time to evaluate properly.
      J: The guy who tested me had an agenda and fooled me or rigged the test.

      There are probably a lot more reasons to give though.

    2. Yeah man, I think if you did that, you would have just wasted some money on travel expenses!

      Have a look at a post like this one:

      Check out page 4 and note the description of the "sculptural" nature of music played with the AQ Diamond. Seriously? Hyperbole indeed!

      As I have said before, it really doesn't matter to me what a person decides to do with his/her money but I just don't think posts like that one are helpful for folks who want to maximize the quality of the sound system and when $$$ can be spent on music.

  2. It's an interesting result indeed!

    About cables and ethernet cables, something caught my attention some days ago.

    The folks of recently made some interesting test comparing DSD 64, 128 and 256 in two different ADC's. Some of the pictures show the huge amount of cables used in the recordings sessions. It's just a BIG mess (and i'm sure it cannot be different, because there's just TOO MUCH audio signals going on at the same time...). And in other picture, you see the detail of a CAT-6 cable being used to record the 256fs 5.0 channel DSD bit-stream.

    So, i have just two questions:

    - If Channel Classics can make such brilliant and wonderful top-notch recordings with that ugly cable management, why should i be worried to make some expensive/paranoid cable management in my system that have only 3, 6 or 10 cables?

    - If Channel Classics uses only a CAT-6 cable to make some of the best recordings of the history, do i need a CAT-7? Hummm.... i'll maybe spend my money in a better headphone or some better speakers ;)

    I don't know if you already read it Archimago, but if you didn't, take a look at the experiment and at the pictures in:

    Best regards!!

    1. Thanks for the link VK. I'm sure the recording sounds fantastic - generic Cat6 or not :-).

      In light of the recent DSD converter tests, I bet these would sound great converted to high-res PCM... Maybe take the DSD128 and convert to 24/88 with SACD plug-in using foobar, and the DSD256 to 24/176 with +6dB gain since I see they're rather low in volume level. In any case, even with the DSD256 sample, there's little if any content >50kHz.

  3. If you buy expensive apparatus, better buy expensive cables. Not due sound improving, but for don't ruin exterior! :)

    1. Absolutely! No problem... Just be honest about esthetics rather than improving sound quality. The problem is we keep focusing on sound quality...