In the early days of USB in digital audio Vertere main man Touraj Moghaddam did a lot of experimentation with topologies and configurations in USB cables, some worked in certain situations but not others, and some PCs were fussier than others. They were interesting and occasionally frustrating times for computer audio. Approximately ten years later Vertere makes a range of four USB cables ranging from the £100 D-Fi to the Pulse HB model at nearly 15 times that price, and all of them work in any typical digital audio set up. A lot has changed in that decade, a lot of us use USB as a link between streamers and DACs even when more conventional audio connections like AES/EBU on XLR connectors is available. In my system the signal is sent from an Innuos music library to a network bridge/streamer on ethernet and then goes to the DAC over USB. When I can use a coax cable with BNC connections it’s my preferred digital link but that’s an increasingly rare option.
Redline is the second tier of Vertere cables above the D-Fi entry level range, they are distinguished by a red outer jacket and matching moulded plugs USB A and B plugs. This cable is manufactured for Vertere in Germany (so watch out for a post Brexit price rise), it comes in slick packaging and feels more professionally made than the many cottage industry cables that you can find, not that this means it should sound any better but it might be more consistent from one sample to the next.
Redline USB has bigger conductors than D-Fi and different fillers between those conductors and two shields, one of which is terminated. The conductors are silver plated high purity copper with Teflon insulation so as good as it gets until you go to linear crystal copper or pure silver. Plug quality is high and I like the colour matched aluminium caps, build is to a high standard.
Listening commenced with the Redline replacing a CAD USB 1 cable between an Auralic Aries G1 streamer and Vega G2.1 DAC, the Vertere cable revealed a lovely shine in the piano notes of The Man I Love (Joni Mitchell/Herbie Hancock) the voice being particularly well rendered both in terms of tonal depth and image solidity. I love the way that the interplay between musicians is communicated so well, it makes the piece gel in a way that brings the performance to life in front of the listener. Imaging is very strong with excellent depth to bass notes in particular, on a track with a more complex bass line (Conjure’s In War Such Things Happen) the definition at lower frequencies keeps things musically coherent, clarifying the rhythm so that the vocal and other elements are easy to follow.
Redline is a relatively plush sounding cable, that is it brings out the polish in recordings that have been given the deluxe treatment, yet it’s not slow or bloated which can be the case with some cables. Essentially it’s alive to the nuances of the recording which is another way of saying that it’s pretty damn transparent, there were a few times when I thought it was revealing more than the CAD cable that I use as a reference. I tried it with a different source in the Stack Audio Link II streamer, this is a bit leaner in character than the Aries G1 but is highly revealing and worked rather well with Redline, delivering 3D imaging of the holographic variety.
I put on Matthew Halsall’s Harmony with Nature (Salute to the Sun) and revelled in the amount of detail that came through, this gave the piece excellent depth of image, marking out the space around the musicians, and defined the nature of the various instruments really nicely. Timing is as ever with Vertere products a strong point too but it achieves this without overemphasising leading edges, this is a well balanced cable and one that revels in a great piece of music. One such being Esperanza Spalding’s Ebony and Ivy (Emily’s D+ Evolution) which took on cinematic scale when delivered through the Redline, the vocal being rounded and deep, the bass line fulsome but well defined and the slick production coming right to the fore.
Chris Kelly got a good result with the Redline RCA analogue interconnect back in the summer and clearly the USB from this range is equally capable, in the scheme of things this is not a particularly expensive cable but it certainly sounds like one. If you have a decent DAC and digital source it could prove to be the finishing touch that pulls the digital whole together to produce a degree of musical delight that’s hard to achieve but very easy to enjoy.