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Don’t worry, USB happy (reprise)

  • Note: this is follow-up article to ‘Don’t Worry, USB happy’.

    Last week, DAR readers were polled about their USB cable choices. Did they use a standard ‘el cheapo’ USB cable between PC/streamer and DAC or had they dropped the extra cash on an audiophile-designed USB cable?

    712 people voted with the results favouring the audiophile USB cable choice 2:1. Clearly, the majority of DAR readers’ listening experiences with digital cables reflect my own: that not all digital cables sound alike. Some sound better than others.

    I’d estimate that 60% of listening sessions to which I am privy don’t get written up for formal publication. That leaves around 40% of this reviewer’s subjective listening-based findings to appear on DAR and other publications.

    Whether it made it to the web or not, every single one of these listening sessions – at home, at shows, in stores, at fellow audiophile’s homes, at audio meets – pool into what we might call experience. Experience tells me that digital cables matter. All of them. USB. Coaxial, TOSLINK. Even Ethernet. That is, some digital cables sound better than others.

    Some reviewers have more experience than others and it isn’t always a matter of looking at the calendar to crudely calculate years on the job. Some are more part-time than others. I’ve only been a full-time audio reviewer for the last three years. The majority of my reviewer colleagues have clocked up more years than I most but, like me, are self-styled and 100% content with the reliability of their subjectively-derived findings. We listen, we think, we write.

    Where’s the beef?

    There is no shortage of people on the Internet trying to tell us that our subjective findings – our first-hand experiences – are ‘wrong’. If it’s not measurable, it’s not reliable – so goes their reasoning. We’ll call our complainant the objectionist objectivist. He’s often forthright. Sometimes he’s plain rude.

    Where this picture blurs is with the objectionist objectivist’s arrival timing. His accusatory gauntlets are rarely thrown down on the back of loudspeaker reviews. Loudspeakers tend to get a pass. As do amplifiers, turntables and, to a lesser extent, D/A converters. But when a reviewer gets into the weeds with less established technology, the objectionist objectivist’s keyboard begins to twitch.

    Nothing wakes an objectionist objectivist from his (sometimes under-bridge) slumber with as much of a start as subjectivist claims that one network streamer sounds better than another or that music software apps sound different to one another. “Bits are bits”, claims the objectivist stridently. His ‘theory’ is deployed to tackle the ball from a reported listening experience. Rarely does he counter the reviewer’s subjectivist listening experience with his own subjectivist listening experience.

    However, it’s digital cable talk that really gets an objectionist objectivist going; to hell with manners and human decency. “Being correct is more important than being polite”, he reasons. Is it any wonder that newcomers walk away from the audiophile world when so much of its air is pregnant with hostility?

    However! Today, we are not interested in the technical arguments that punch back and forth. To rehash the average digital audio conversation blow by blow is to miss the point: that the objectionist objectivist’s objections lack consistency.

    Compare a handful of randomly selected loudspeaker reviews against those of digital cables, software or network streamer and you’ll likely notice a stark difference in each category’s comments sections.

    With loudspeaker and amplifier coverage, we note far fewer calls for double-blind testing and measurements. And yet for digital cable reviews they show up on a regular basis. This same imbalance also plays out on forums where, time and again, digital cable discussion threads prove more controversial than loudspeakers or amplifiers. This also mirrors my own first-hand experience with post-article comments, forums and emails.

    The objectionist objectivist’s implicit message? That one set of listening experience-derived conclusions are, on the whole, fine (loudspeakers, amplifiers, cartridges) but those over there, the digital cables and the software and the network streamers: sorry – no go.

    Let that sink in for a moment: as subjective reviewers, the objectionist objectivist finds only some of our first-hand experiences to be ‘wrong’. Write favourably about a loudspeaker and it goes unchecked. Write favourably about a USB cable on the back of identical subjective/experiential listening methods and we’re cast as lead-support in a conspiracy theory.

    If the objectionist objectivist considers a reviewer’s subjective assessment methods sufficiently unreliable for digital cables – an absence of ABX testing or measurements – then it follows that those same subjective assessment methods must also be sufficiently unreliable for loudspeakers, amplifiers, turntables and everything else?

    In other words, all reviews penned by a subjectivist reviewer should be ignored/tackled by the objectionist objectivist, not just a select few pieces.

    Flipping it around and simplifying, if in following a reviewer over the long-haul means you trust his/her listening experience-derived findings on loudspeakers and amplifiers, should you not also trust his/her findings with matters beyond your purview?

    Of course, if you’re an objectionist objectivist, you won’t be reading this site. You’ll be reading a publication where conclusions are drawn via assessment methods more conducive to your special/ist needs; and you’ll be doing so consistently for all audio-related matters, not just digital cables.

    And because you’re not here, this post is already redundant.

    As you were…

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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