Totaldac are a French company run by Vincent Brient specializing in, yes, you guessed it DACs. DACs that use hand built R2R ladders to be precise. Their digital systems go upwards of 30,000 Euros so they are completely high end, even their entry to their latest line D1 is €6960 as far as DACs are concerned. What you might have not seen coming though is that I am not using a DAC, a digital component, yes, but a DAC, no. We are looking at a USB cable and the price is much more modest compared to his DACs at €390 for a 2m version in the EU including tax. You can save €30 and get the 0.25m version, which for my system is plenty of cable.
Filter That Junk:
If you have kept up to date with us lately you will know we had finally found a USB cable that presented a sonic difference when used, even if it was a minute one, in the Audiocadabra Optimus. That took the approach of splitting both the data and power lines, interesting indeed and I guess I have to say I found it worked or made a difference. Totaldac have decided on a different approach, they have a filter box inline. I have actually tried a cable with this sort of idea before in the BMC PureUSB1 but I was left a little disappointed with that. I really hoped this didn’t go in the same direction. What is also clear is that Totaldac have designed this cable with less focus on using boutique materials and expensive connectors and more on the technical design. That being said I have never heard a difference with USB cable using different materials to a standard stock cable and only have when there has been a technical design implemented to make a difference. The Charleston Cable Companies Pure Copper USB cable is an example of one that doesn’t sound different to the cheapo stock cables I have. That same material when used as analog interconnect or headphone did however, make a difference.
The filter is in an aluminum box with a fair bit of weight to it. The electronic circuit inside apparently has upwards of 30 components and all of them are dedicated to stopping or at least containing the junk that your computer or server will spit out along with the data. I did grab some screwdrivers to have a little peek inside but they are protecting their secret formula and have glued over the screws, interesting….
Now in the Optimus review I said how I found it to make sense that the data and power are separated. Well according to Totaldac there is no need for that to be done with this cable as the filter is right before the DAC input and it filters both data and power lines. So regardless of how long the cable is before the filter and USB connector, the filters separate everything just as efficently and then get rid of the crap on top of that so there just isn’t a need for them to have separate lines. That makes sense to me. A little more on the cable is that it supports both USB 1.0/USB 2.0 and synchronous/asynchronous modes. It also works as a normal USB cable in all other regards (yes it does hi-res and DSD), working with MAC, linux and Windows and being as simple as plug and play.
The Black Box:
The cable itself seems fairly thick yet also soft and flexible enough for how you are ever going to use a USB cable. It holds its ground and never gets out of control either, which is another bonus. The USB connectors look as standard as they come, nickel plated with plastic housings. For the price I would like to see them being gold plated simply with longevity in mind and so that my 300 pound cable doesn’t look like something that comes free with a printer.
About 7cm before you get to the USB plug you have the box. Now I know that the filter box is what this cable is ALL about but I actually find it quite annoying. It is 7cm across, 6cm is deep and 4cm upwards and as I said earlier, it has some weight to it. Now it may not even come across a pain in the slightest for your system but for me in my desktop headphone system, yes. I have my DACs seated one a wooden platform to the right of my iMac from where the music comes. My amps seat underneath the DACs and all the interconnects and power cable are round the back with the power cables going down to the floor where all my Audioplan power filters are. Now when using a bigger DAC like the NAD M51, it is so deep that it goes all the way to the back of my wooden platform. The problem comes because there is not enough space behind it for the box to sit and therefore it ends up hanging down the back and putting a lot of pressure on the USB connectors of the cable and the DAC, with a normal USB cable this would be fine. Obviously I did not leave it like this and had to find a way around it but it is not as simple as a traditional USB cable. With my smaller Exogal Comet then it fortunately has no problem seated behind it so depending on location and DAC size it could or could not be a problem. I can also see problems arising if you have a much taller DAC, on that has the USB input seated higher than 7cm and again you will have the box dangling, applying a lot of pressure. The actual box itself seems pretty indestructible. It feels dense and well put together.
Connected to the Exogal Comet that has an upside down USB port. You can see that while it sits neatly here, there is no room behind the NAD M51 next to it. Interconnects are Nordost Frey2.
A USB Cable With A Sound Signature:
So with the Audiocadabra cable I found it to slightly refine what a stock cable does with added extension on each end. The overall signature was a pretty similar though, I didn’t find a obvious change there, differences where more present with things like detail, speed and a more open sound. This however is a different ball game, it makes a much more obvious difference, the properties it has make it identifiable even in blind tests. Don’t think this is me making out the cable is coloured or will dramatically change what your source is doing but I do find this to be a valued component in my system more than any USB cable ever has been.
Now before we get onto how this sounds I the reason that this may have a different sound is because it is the purest and it is filtering out all the gunk and rubbish. So when I say it doesn’t have any colouration I think it is actually the lack of some that gives its sound. If you are getting all the pollution with a stock USB cable and some even with a split USB cable, that pollution will likely be colouring the sound and with that filter you’re removing it, that makes sense in my head anyway and is just my rationing what’s going on, so this could well be the purest sounding USB cable.
I find it very resolving, relaxed and forgiving as a cable. It doesn’t sound as aggressive as any others I have tried and that is paired with a smooth and warm tonality. To what it extreme this all is please take with a pinch of salt but it is the most obvious of all digital cables I have tried.
The bass seems a little weaker with a warmer and less punchy impact. It helps bring the midrange to the forefront and feels less bloated and smoother with a more natural decay. The bass seems more organic for sure. While it may not be as hard hitting I find the body to be larger and more enveloping instead of being a small but hard smack. Depending on what you use it with though will this be a positive or negative thing.
The midrange feels a bit richer but is one of the even more subtle differences. Because of the softer bass and treble the midrange certainly feels at the forefront but don’t expect it too make a headphone or speaker with recessed mids sound neutral.
The treble has quite a clear difference. I find it softer and easier but also with better body. It makes my other cables such sound a bit tinny and on some tracks even sharp. It takes the bite out of them but gives them texture and keeps all levels of detail. I don’t feel like we are drowning out the treble although I would say it takes a little step back but we are more so improving it. I much prefer it and with a DAC that is known for being cold and edgy in the treble such as the very stereotypical “Sabre” sounding DAC the Yulong D200, it is god send in starting the process of taming it. With a DAC that is already quite well presented in treble like my Exogal it still shows a difference that is appreciated. I find treble presentation to be something that causes a very digital sound (among other things) and with both stock and split cables, that digital sound is there, dare I say it, this is much more analog because of this.
The soundstage is very cohesive and tight together with ok width and great depth. It doesn’t feel as wide and instruments don’t seem as spaced out compared to the Audiocadabra but it feels so much more complete, fuller, and deeper, giving you better perspective.
Comparing to the Audiocadabra I actually found it to be less airy, detailed and also slower. However for me it just seemed un-natural, the speed, tizzy treble and forced details of the Audiocadabra just didn’t seem as right as the way this cable sounds. That being said implementation is key here, I don’t know how it would get on with Totaldacs own range of DACs (I should hope it is great) but it got on heaps better with my NAD M51 and Yulong D200 than it did with my Exogal Comet. It’s smoother sound actually preferred my Sennheiser HD800s, darker slower headphones such as the Apollo Audio Labs X1, Sennheiser HD580 and even the ZMF Master Model actually preferred the sound of the Audiocadabra because it was faster and they could do with the aggression and that forced detail, with the Totaldac they almost become too resolving and over relaxed on the treble. With any reference quality headphone, DAC and amp though this was the obvious cable to use, be it if I was using the NAD M51, to the Questyle CMA800R too my HD800s or with the Aurorasound HEADA being used along with a CIEM such as the Hidition Viento-R.
It Isn’t Cheap Though:
Because of the sound I can instantly get over the box’s annoyances and all those little things, they are no biggie. Even though this cable wasn’t perfect in all aspects, I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it made to any other cable I had ever tried, in the world of miniscule digital cable differences and for my system it is the perfect additional component. The price is interesting, because it really comes down to what you plan on using it with. As much as I liked it with the Yulong D200, that’s a £300 DAC and instead of then investing £300 in a cable, you’d be much better of getting a £600 DAC, the differences would be much more obvious. If your using a DAC like the Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold or even one of Totaldacs own, the extra expense it relatively non-existent and even if you can get a different DAC for £300 more, it would be completely different and maybe not what your after at all, while this cable could be that little fine tune that you were after. As much as I was impressed with this cable it really does have to be one of the last things you add to your system whenever everything else is just right.