If there’s something that almost everyone thinks they can make in hi-fi it’s cables. Before I worked in reviewing I made cables of my own and they sounded better than the cheap ones I had at the time, but I didn’t feel the urge to go out and sell them to the world, maybe I should have.
Plenty of people do and a lot of them decide that the way to let the world know about their ground breaking cable is to have a reviewer try it out and, hopefully, write something enthusiastic about it. It’s a lot cheaper than advertising and more likely to be believed. As a result I get a lot of folks trying to have me audition their cables. What they may not imagine is that having heard a lot of cables in the past I have found some that I really like and would rather stick with.
Sadly reviewing is not just about enjoying your music, it’s necessary to keep the ancillaries in the system consistent in order to be able to tell if the next piece of kit is really any good or not. I do occasionally come across cables that better my references in some respects but rarely in all of them, and where the gains are marginal it’s a lot easier to stick with what you know.
This has been the case with USB cables which I’ve been using for over a decade now, essentially ever since network streaming took off, and in that time I have used only two cables for more than a couple of months. This is because I haven’t found anything better than the one which has been in use the most, the CAD I, which arrived in 2014 and has proved very hard to beat in all respects.
It must have been just over a year ago that Rob at Network Acoustics got in touch to offer me the USB cable that he was working on at the time, he realised that I liked the CAD but thought that he could beat it. His cable turned out to be a good but not good enough given that the price was about the same, he was disappointed when I let him know but instead of assuming that I am deaf went away to build a better mousetrap, so to speak. A few months later the first example of what was to become the ENO USB Cable III turned up, and a few weeks after that (cables aren’t that exciting) I gave it a go and found that it did indeed seem to be better.
This latest model is now in production and distinguishes itself by having three separate cores, the CAD had two with the second carrying the 5V required by many DACs. Network Acoustics don’t specify what each of the cores carries on their cable but it’s safe to assume that one is the 5V as well, the other two could be separate left and right channels but that’s just a guess. What they do say is that is has silver copper alloy conductors rather than the silver ones found in their ethernet cables. These are UP-OCC conductors in fact, which stands for ultra-pure Ohno continuous casting, a system developed in Japan to minimise grain boundaries in copper and silver cables.
Network Acoustics also say that they use gold plated pure copper conductors and have designed the dielectric (insulation) and shielding for maximum sound quality which is what everyone else says of course. What sets this USB cable apart is its sound quality and that comes down to the unspoken aspects of its creation.
I used this cable both between a Melco N10 server/streamer and various DACs as well as to connect standalone streamers and various DACs and in every case it delivered mountains of detail in a totally coherent and relaxed form. Electrical noise on the mains and in the atmosphere is largely responsible for the cold, edgy sound found with digital components, and the more noise that is blocked out, the more natural the sound. This ENO cable is clearly very, very good at keeping noise at bay because it produces exceptionally delicate sounds and makes it easy to appreciate them even when there are louder elements in the music. In essence it has a very low noise floor and thus wide dynamic range, the noise is so low that the quietest sounds can be heard. Combine this with a totally neutral tonal character and no apparent blurring of timing and you have a remarkably good conduit for high frequency digital signals.
Compared to other very good cables it allows poise and precision with a richness of tone that is delightful, this makes instruments and voices sound more natural and real. I spent a bit of time comparing streamers with it and heard huge differences that might have been masked by a less transparent or more characterful cable. Image scale and depth are both extremely good, when the PMC fact fenestria speakers were in the system the definition of images and depth of soundstage was truly extraordinary. I was so impressed with this cable that I asked to try the ENO ethernet filter and streaming cable that Chris Kelly had enjoyed so much in 2020.
If there’s one thing I dislike more than cables it’s accessories. As good as many of them can be, and they are, they make it harder to set up and review equipment because space is always limited. So when I tried these elements in between the network switch and Melco server I would have been happy if they didn’t do much so that I could take them out and send them back. Inevitably this didn’t prove to be the case and several months later I have relocated the switch in order to make it possible to use the relatively short ethernet cable all the time. These elements essentially do a very similar job to the USB cable by taking noise out of the system, but because they sit further back in the chain they have a greater influence on the final result.
Which means greater openness, purity of sound and density of detail which translates into background sounds making more sense, reverberation times increasing and imaging going up by the sort of degree you expect with a DAC upgrade. The sense of presence and connection with the artist increases markedly because you can hear so much of the environment around voices and acoustic instruments, this may not be created naturally but the effect is much the same regardless. With this filtering at the front of the system the USB cable is able to reveal more of what’s on each recording and it does so with a calmness and absence of colouration or distortion that makes for totally immersive listening.
The guys at Network Acoustics clearly know what they are doing with the ENO gear, they have grasped what matters most with digital streaming and delivered connections and filters that do a better job than most. That two guys can do this is remarkable, they must know something that the rest of the cable making world doesn’t, but focussing on streaming must be part of the reason for their success. Streaming systems are limited by the amount of noise they have to cope with, the Network Acoustics USB III is a fabulous weapon with which to combat that problem.