Make a better USB cable

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Make a better USB cable

It’s a nuisance that cables make so much difference and I can understand why some flatly refuse to accept that they do, it must make life a bit simpler. However, all it takes is a quick comparison in a reasonably revealing system and anyone can hear the inconvenient truth, a situation that is not limited to analogue cables either. Bits may be bits but the timing of their arrival and the way a cable behaves at high frequencies has a fairly profound influence on digital cables and the sound quality they produce.

Up until about six months ago I had not found a USB cable that was entirely great, some were more revealing, some had better timing but none combined all the qualities that one looks for, until I got a length of Vertere Acoustics Pulse-HB. Then everything seemed to come together, now I had a cable that had clean, extended treble, extraordinary precision of timing and more detail than anything else on the planet. I was happy. Its maker, Touraj Moghaddam, was too, that is until he started to make some recordings of a band called Caezar and discovered that what he heard in the studio differed in key respects to what he got through his own system. This highlights the ignorance is bliss aspect of cable appreciation, if you’ve not heard better you can be happy with your cables, it’s a warning to all of us!

Suddenly Touraj had a goal, he knew that there was more waiting to get through, that he was still not hearing the original sound. So he started tinkering with grounding and plugs and before long he had a new version of Pulse-HB USB that let more through and sounded a whole lot clearer than the first, he had made a distinct improvement to what was already the best USB cable I have heard. It didn’t prompt a change of product name but you can tell the difference in the plug, the USB B plug that connects to the DAC is longer. But in fact both plugs use different contact material and the gold plating was also modified, changes were also made to the grounding of the power line and shielding. Touraj spent a lot of time experimenting with this in the first place but it seems that more work could be done. Existing owners of this cable can have the latter topology changes done free of charge if they cover shipping, they can also get the new connectors for around £150, which is reasonable in the context of the £1,350 price of a metre cable.

Why is this cable so good? I think the key lies in the treble, it is difficult to get clean, open and extended treble out of digital systems because this is the part of the spectrum where it seems to be hardest to produce a natural sound. As a result most cables either sound like the treble has been smoothed over, rolled off in effect, or they are grainy and typically digital in as much as high notes lack shape and there is not much in the way of ‘air’ or daylight. There is a fine line between revealing high frequencies and adding a subtle emphasis that results in a bright, fatiguing sound, but this is what Pulse-HB does and it does it better than most.

But it’s not just about treble, the rest of the band is equally well served, as the Vivid Giya G4 loudspeaker revealed when I used it with a Melco server and CAD 1543 Mk2 DAC, ths system producing violin string tone that is incredibly fine and deep, and harmonics that reach up to the sky. The sense of immediacy is second to none, there is no overhang, no blurring of leading edges and yet no grain either. Just attack and decay with all the intensity or subtlety that each musician can muster, alongside all the reverb and harmonic structure of each note. Imaging is also a strongpoint, put this cable in a decent system and you will get a strong sense of musicians in the room in body and soul, the only limitation is how well the recording has been made, how much of the original acoustic was captured and how good the rest of the system and room is at resolving it. But this cable will not be a limiting factor.

Then we come to the bass, here the bigger the speaker and the faster and grippier the amplifier the more fabulous the sense of shape and power. The track that made this most palpable in recent times is ‘Seeya’ by Deadmau5, an electronic dance piece with the most visceral drum sound yet encountered. Other digital cables do it quite well but they don’t reveal the speed and shape and nor can you listen at the sort of levels it deserves because of the distortion they introduce. The higher the volume the more obvious are the advantages of this cable, some cables work well at low levels but start to sound bright and edgy if you push the volume. Pulse-HB revels in high volumes because it’s so coherent and revealing, it is almost invisible to signal.

I have used both the Vertere USB cables with all the digital equipment I have reviewed since the first one arrived. Initially it took a while to come to terms with the extra resolution it produced, at least one DAC probably got a slightly better review than it might have done during this acclimatisation phase. But the overall effect was that everything that I have assessed during this time has sounded better as a result, analogue sources excepted. Loudspeakers, amplifiers and of course digital sources and converters have benefitted from a cable that gives them more to work with. If the detail is not getting out of the source it can’t be reclaimed at a later stage in the chain, cables can only degrade the signal and ultimately it would be better if we didn’t need them, but usually we do so the aim is to find one that degrades the least. A cable that doesn’t screw up timing, tonal balance or dynamics is what you want and Pulse-HB USB is as close to that goal as I have heard.

It isn’t exactly cheap but then again you will be hard pressed to find something that works this well that is, which tends to be the way it works with cables. Price is not related to intrinsic cost as much as it is to results, this is true across the cable universe because the people involved have to spend a lot of time and money to achieve those results. If you’re happy with the sound of your digital source leave it alone, if you want to hear more of the music in those bits I highly recommend it.

Jason Kennedy