There is always debate with cables, are they a waste of money? Are they snake oil? Do they make a difference? Well with cables in the analogue domain, I have never had a doubt, I have always heard difference with different headphone cables, speaker cables, interconnects and even power cables. I have tried and reviewed lots and had never had too much trouble discerning a difference. However, digital cables have always been different. I am not one to write something off, but until I have heard a difference with my own ears I remain neutral, not disagreeing with anyone, just being honest about my experiences. Until now I have tried a fair few USB cables, an assortment of stock cables (standard), a Charleston Cable Company OCC Copper cable (an upgrade material), BMC’s PureUSB1 (a filter box in line), the cable in question Audiocadabra’s Optimus Dual Headed Cable and then most recently the TotalDAC D1 (also with a filter box). So I have tried a plethora of ideas and technologies with the range of USB cables that have been used in my system so I think I am giving USB cables a very fair chance.
Today we are looking at Audiocadabra’s offering and you know what, I wouldn’t have wanted to try it if it was not offering a completely different approach from what I had used before. As a bit of background you should know that Audiocadabra make their cables in India, my recent holiday destination, and make every single cables by hand, taking around 3 hours to finish each one, which is a nice thing in a time of mass produced everything but isn’t completely unique to boutique cables, I know quite a few other brands who still work like this. So what was it that drew me in? Well their USB cable is dual headed, so the USB-B connection from your DAC splits off into two USB-A connections with one designated from data and the other for power. This makes sense to me, separate data and power and you should reduce noise because the data wont have the interference of the power sharing a signal. Now Audiocadabra weren’t the first company to do it, I don’t know who was but I know Light Harmonic have a similar cable that is a fair bit more expensive starting at £650 and there are also cheaper options from iFi (£165) and Kingrex (£400). While Audiocadabra may not be the first, they are the cheapest with their Optimus Dual Headed USB cable starting at just $89 (£60) for a meter and for every extra 0.5m that you want expect to pay another $20. The price is another reason why I wanted to give the guys from India a chance, because if you get any sort of sound difference then your doing so at a humble price.
When building this cable they utilize high quality solid core copper cables. They don’t give away a lot more than that but they do claim it is proprietary. They use PTFE/Teflon sheathing and apparently have just started using a new braid method I haven’t got to see. The cables seem to be quite simple in construction, not using an OCC copper or making wild claims about the purity. The dual headed nature seems like much more of a focus point.
Because of the use of two USB-A connections you can configure this cable in a few ways. The first way is one I have been toying with and that is to not use the power line at all. If your DAC isn’t USB powered then you don’t need power signal coming in, which is what most cables end up allowing. However, maybe they like the power signal because that has ended up offering better sound so I ended up plugging the second head into an external power supply anyway. If you do have a USB powered DAC then you have two ways of using the cables. Firstly you have the simplicity of plugging both USB connectors into your computer and still having the signals isolated. The second way is the one that I think is coolest and that is to plug the data connector into the computer and the power connector to an external power supply such as the mains. Sadly I don’t have any USB powered DACs at the moment that use a USB-B or USB-A input, the only two options that Audiocadbra offer this cable in, so have only been using this with DACs that have an external power supply. The latest DACs I have been using with this are the NAD M51 but I have also used the Yulong D200, Teac UD-501 and Rein Audio X3-DAC. I do think this cable should come with the option of micro USB connectors.
When a USB cable is used in my system it hides behind the scenes, not seen to the listener. That being said for some reason I still appreciate a well-built cable, one that is flexible and a pleasure to install, something like the Nordost Frey2 and Heidmall2 interconnects I have. I cannot say that about this USB cable, it is horrible. It is a hard cable that has no flexibility, a loose braid and doesn’t stay neat, it spirals put of control on a path of destruction from my iMac to the back of the DAC.
This could have gone one of two ways, I could say that I didn’t hear a difference or I could say I did. Reviews are not always this 50/50, or they don’t usually hold as much suspense as this one. Well let’s just come out and say it, I now believe in digital cables, thanks Audiocadabra (and TotalDAC for that matter). To be fair the difference I am hearing can be somewhat justified as the fact you are separating the power and data should cause less noise, there are no two ways about it and that is something I can hear. Background is definitely darker and therefore you get a more resolving sound.
Something I did notice with this cable is that it just sounds a little bit better, it doesn’t bring much difference, and everything is just clearer, cleaner and more focused. With the TotalDAC D1 USB Cable you actually get a difference that could fool you into thinking you have changed DACs. This however is just an improved stock cable, the frequency response isn’t changing dramatically, you don’t get more or less midrange but you can, well me and Josh could, notice a difference in overall technicalities. Okay the biggest change we heard was an extension of the frequencies at both ends, a more obvious rumble in the deep lows and a more airy high treble. When I went back to stock after the Optimus, I felt the sound and been squashed horizontally. I also felt things to be just a tad sloppy stock, a bit rushed; this is of course all in comparison. I must add though what we were not straining to hear a difference, they presented themselves easily and did not make heard work to flaunt their differences.
The sound is better, yes, I think so, so did Josh, we A/Bed quite extensively and our notes were near identical, I wasn’t even telling him what USB cable I was using of the 5 I had hidden round the back of my system and he still knew which was which, blind testing at his best I would say. We also both laughed guiltily knowing people might not be sure on new found belief in USB cables. What can we do?
Looking again at the price of this cable it makes for a easy recommendation, its not much more than the price of Josh’s standard USB cable he bought from the high street, that cost £20 and while well made, its not for audio listening in any way. Yes this isn’t exactly cheap still but if your curious about a USB cable making a difference then this a good a bet. Although it isn’t exactly pretty, it also offers versatility in function with its dual headed design and even if it is a rather small increase in sound performance, it could just be the icing on the cake. The only real let down with this is if you need a pretty, easy to use and well built cable, this may just leave you frustrated. Cables can be bought from www.audiocadabra.com!