Pushback on cables — it comes with the audiophile territory — but the strength of the opposing force can vary with the type of cable at hand.
Back in the late 70s, if you’d suggested anything but the most basic phone wire be used for loudspeaker hookup, you’d have been laughed out of your own zip code.
Nowadays, it’s more broadly accepted that loudspeaker cables can (and do) sound different – that some sound better than others. The major ingredient in this broader change in attitude towards loudspeaker cable was time. Time for the user experience to percolate through the audiophile collective.
USB cables designed to meet audiophile sensitivities are a more recent development. Engineers try to tackle issues such as jitter and EMI/RFI pollution. Alas, users hearing differences between USB aren’t as widespread as those reporting in favour of loudspeaker cable deltas. And so pushback remains commonplace.
Sadly, not all of it is courteous.
Yesterday, a snap of the Australian-made Curious USB cable posted to DAR’s Instagram account solicited the following response:
“Is the sarcasm button turned on? Digitally transmitting data is the same on any cable at any price. Even cables that can’t even transmit enough amperage to charge an iPhone like aluminium are the exact same. Digital is perfect it’s digital and has nothing to do with sound. I hope you realise this and get your money back. Either that or you’re a shill getting kickbacks”.
Let’s ignore the confrontational attitude of the responder. Let’s also ignore that there is no such thing as a digital signal, only an analogue representation of a digital signal where ones and zeroes are sent as electrical pulses. Voltages which can be corrupted by electrical noise interference to cause jitter (timing errors) in the downstream D/A converter. From Wikipedia: “In electronics and telecommunications, jitter is the deviation from true periodicity of a presumably periodic signal, often in relation to a reference clock signal. In clock recovery applications it is called timing jitter.”
Let us also ignore that differences between USB cables are measurable.
Instead, let us consider the conspiracy theory aspect of our antagonist’s comment. Let’s imagine, just for one moment, that s/he’s correct: that I am indeed a shill for Curious cables and that my enthusiastic review of the Curious cable is a work of pure fiction. In other words, I am a liar.
Extending this imaginary scenario beyond DAR walls, it follows that Srajan Ebaen is also a liar – that his review of the Curious is also fabricated to assist Rob Woodland, the cable’s designer, to shift units. Also a work of fiction is that of Kurt Lassen at Mono & Stereo. Joining our conspiracy theory’s set of reviewers on the take is Dave Clark at Positive Feedback.
Extrapolating this theoretical model further still, every single Curious cable customer has been duped. Any ensuing positive reports on forums and social media are also lies, commentary artificially constructed to justify a spendy spend.
The worst offender in our Instagram user’s conspiracy theory must be Rob Woodland himself. He knows his cable sounds no better than a $3 printer cable but takes people’s money all the same. Jeez – how does that guy sleep at night? Likewise, Mike Lenehan of Queenslands’s Lenehan Audio and the new rights holder of Woodland’s original design, brand name and unmistakable yellow and black heat-shrink.
But wait. If Woodland and Lenehan are on the opportunistic take, it follows that every USB cable manufacturer is a con merchant; that reviewers of their products are also shills; and every owner of an audiophile-grade USB cable has been duped proving that a fool and his money are soon parted. Hundreds of reviews and thousands of end user comments – all lies.
Find my language overly dramatic? It isn’t mine. The words – ‘con merchant’, ‘shills’, ‘fools’ – and more – ‘scam’, ‘fraud’ – are the lifeblood of conspiracy theorists inhabiting comments sections and forums.
The big problem with this conspiracy theory is that it just isn’t plausible, especially in the Internet era. The very same mechanism that allows anyone with an opinion to voice it loudly – as per our Instagram objector – is the same that would have called out the USB cable scam – were it so – long before now.
Which is more often seen out there on the message boards, Facebook, Twitter etc: “There is no way that USB cables can sound different to one another” (a theoretical objection) OR “I tried that $400 USB cable and it sounds no different to my $5 printer cable” (an empirical objection)? I’d argue that it’s the former theoretical objection that shows up time and again.
Why do the theoretical objectors with their over simplistic “bits are bits” reasoning continue to give voice to the same? It’s a special kind of stubbornness at work — a refusal to maintain a balance of skepticism and an open mind. Open to empirical testing, to actually running the Curious (or other) USB cable in their own audio system, from which might hear for themselves that USB cables can and do sound different – that some sound better than others. Or not. The point is: to give it a shot.
We should also be mindful that lower resolution audio systems might not benefit from an audiophile-centric USB audio cable.
Next question: why don’t our theoretical detractors wait it out until they’ve heard something before venturing an opinion? I’d contend that the root of their hands-off refutation is the very same on which their unsubstantiated accusations of fraud rests: money.
Our conspiracy theorists don’t want to know that some USB cables sound better than others because it opens them up to another expense. It’s financially advantageous for our hoax accusers to claim that bits are bits, that all USB cables sound the same even though experience tells us otherwise.
If this says anything, it’s that direct experience with USB cables sounding different to one another requires more time to percolate through the audiophile collective.
Time to hug this out with a poll that will run for a week:
Further information: Lenehan Audio