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  1. #1

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    Default AudioQuest Carbon Ipod USB cable, 1st impressions

    My cd player has a USB input on its face that lets me plug in any drive that has a USB out, and listen to music files using the player's DAC (Cirrus Logic CS4398). It plays every major file format except FLAC.

    I've been using it with my Ipods a lot. I rip all of my music into ALAC lossless format; I've got a couple of big Ipod Classics (160GB/80GB), with a lot of my stuff on it. It's extremely convenient - no messing with cds and cases (some of the newer paper ones are very nice and conscientious, but they're not exactly durable). It also sounds great - I think cds sound a bit better, just a touch darker, but I love just plugging the pods in, scrolling and pushing Play.

    I know there are better players out there, but I really love this feature, and I don't see any superior players with this feature. And I'd like to put off getting a separate DAC or Ipod dock for as long as I can ($$$, among other things). So, rather than get a DAC and/or upgrade my cdp, I'd like to get as much SQ as I can out of this player, without spending so much that I might as well have upgraded (and gotten a separate DAC/dock).

    So once I got the player, and got used to using the USB input, I started looking at aftermarket Ipod cables. Like a lot of people, I'm interested in aftermarket stuff that improves SQ, or is supposed to. I know that cables and cords are a source of controversy in the listeners' community. If something doesn't cost too much, I can afford to try it out, so I can at least tell myself I heard it (or didn't) myself.

    Most people are using these cables to go computer-to-DAC, and using other connectors - USB-to-firewire, USB-to-mini-USB, etc. So I didn't find many reviews of Ipod USB cables (in fact, I found none). Also, reviews and forum discussions of USB cables indicated that you have to spend $100+ to get a noticeable improvement over any stock cable.

    Like I said, I know these are controversial subjects. I don't know enough to tell anyone why a USB cable could make a difference in SQ, and I don't know enough to say why it couldn't (besides "it's just numbers"). But I did have some cash laying around, so I picked up an AudioQuest Carbon Ipod USB cable. It's just a little over $100 - not Audioquest's cheapest USB cable, and not their most expensive - and other versions (e.g. firewire) have gotten some good reviews and comments.

    I wanted to post my impressions, if only to get the ball rolling on a discussion of these cables, because there's not much about them out there yet. I was going to wait a bit before posting, though; among other things, these cords supposedly have a burn-in period (another controversial topic, I know).

    The thing is...as soon as I plugged this cable into player and pod, and did a crude A/B with a track that I had just listened to on stock (Steely Dan's "Rose Darling"), I noticed a difference - a good one. I've been listening for a few hours now, doing A/Bs here and there. As of now, I'd say it's half-way between stock cable and cd; space between tracks is clearer (darker?); things sound a bit tighter, including bass. Also, the soundstage seems slightly improved - some stuff seems a little further out front, and some sounds a little further back, in terms of imaging. There's also a bit less of that slight distortion at the tip of some mid/treb tracks that I think we call "grain". More of a presence at lower volumes, as well. And, yes, I think I can hear things I haven't heard before, at least through the Ipod USB.

    Is it all in my head? It may be. I don't discount the possibility; however, if it is, it's one of the less subtle improvements that I've imagined. Not amazing; just better.

    I only have two concerns, so far. The first is that, while I think I can hear more, trebs may be a little flattened. I might call it "veiled", but I don't want to overstate it. Maybe burn-in will change that. Also,the plastic casing surrounding the USB connector seems a little loose. Connector connects fine, plastic just seems loose. Not necessarily more than stock, though. I've seen someone else noticing this, so it may be an issue, or I may have been oversensitized to that factor, or both. It wasn't the most expensive model, but it wasn't cheap. So we'll see.

    I guess I need a little more time, and things may get better (or worse) after burn-in. I'd love to hear about anyone else's experience with USB-to-whatever cables. In any case, I'll be back with updates. More later.

    btw I have no affiliation or relationship w/ Audioquest! Or Marantz. Or Parasound etc.
    Last edited by bthogan; 11-23-2012 at 10:10 PM.
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  2. #2

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    Man, I'm sorry that's so long. I just wanted to touch every base re: my decision-making process, and such. Sorry!

    Anyway...just did an A/B with "Largo", the 2nd track off of the Deupree/Mathieu collaboration, Transcriptions. Some obvious improved clarity, "new" sounds. Right now, I just hope that plastic casing holds up. If it doesn't, I'll get a replacement.
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  3. #3

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    All cables make a difference. As gear gets better then the cables should also be upgraded. Better cables equals better sound. Although there are ostriches around who keep their heads in the sand and deny cables make any difference, anybody with actual experience will tell you what you just discovered. Cables, no matter where in circuit, make a difference.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlueFox View Post
    All cables make a difference. As gear gets better then the cables should also be upgraded. Better cables equals better sound. Although there are ostriches around who keep their heads in the sand and deny cables make any difference, anybody with actual experience will tell you what you just discovered. Cables, no matter where in circuit, make a difference.
    I'm not a cable skeptic, but I have to say, my mind is kind of blown. I've been listening for hours now, hearing changes in sound quality, not just improvements, but "lateral" moves, a different sort of sound that some might like, and some might not...Right now, it actually sounds sort of like my McCormack (which is away, but will be back). Tube-y, muscular; some things are actually a bit obscured in the mix versus the usual (stock cable) sound, which might be called analytical in comparison, but the overall nature of the sound is so involving that it's ok (for me). Bass is tight and controlled; tweeters are singing.

    It's early yet (for the cable); I expect further play will cause further changes. Because some things are a matter of taste, I could see someone saying they didn't like it; but it wouldn't be credible to say it didn't make a significant difference.

    Just numbers. Fascinating.
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  5. #5

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    I just got my Boss to bring in all the Audioquest computer cables. I didn't however have a Ipod cables ordered. Sounds like I should have.

    Analog cables including speaker wire I can hear many differences between them. I've been doing these listening test for decades and know for sure there are differences between them.
    Digital cables I have had a much harder time hearing differences. optical to optical for me was extremely difficult with one exception. Years ago HD DSS receivers came with a Optical cable. It was a thin plastic 6 foot cable. I noticed some choking or loss of sound with this cable Installed over a better quality Monster cable at that time. It as one of the only times I heard a difference. Even with that cable I didn't think much could be different as it was a light transfer and the end lit up bright red. But I heard those differences.
    Years and years later I tried really hard to hear any differences between HDMI cables. Never once did I hear anything at all until I tried Audioquest Cinnamon series vs some Binary , Cheapo comcast and some Key Digital cables I had at that time. I was a little confused why I was able to hear smoother cleaner audio with the Audioquest over the others. The others all sounded exactly the same.
    Even the the Audioquest HDMI cable , it's not night and day differences. It's very subtle but yet there are some improvements. I now use nothing but Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cables in my system. Even Monitor out to the TV as no Audio goes to my TV as it's just a monitor. It doesn't even have speakers on it.

    USB cables as I now explore the computer audio thing I'm excited to get a few to test. Right now I'm using high speed USB cables that are rated to 3.0 USB so they are quality cables and get the job done. I'm not exactly sure what a better quality USB cable is going to do but I have an open mind about cables and IF a cable performs better , I except what I hear. If it doesn't I except that 2. I find no better way to judge a cable then sit down and listen to it. Many on the internet judge cables and never do any listening. Thats fine as they just miss out. Some find extreme differences and sometimes I feel people need to feel this way as they spent a ton of cash on these high end cables and need to justify the purchase. Others think they sound better due to the fact they look "COOL". This I find pretty common as a lot of cables out their yield little to no sonic benefits over others costing a lot less.

    I work in the field and have met countless Engineers and I have had long discussions on this very topic and really have learned a great deal. The shame of it all is the"Snake Oil" cables out their really tarnish the reality that cables do make a difference as they have a job to do. Their is a job to do and the cable at hand for a given job needs to perform this task to it's fullest. BUT when the job is done 100% there is nothing more a higher end cable can do to make anything improve. Really NOTHING!!!! Trust me on that. The goal though to to figure out what level of cable from what company does it "RIGHT". Many cables get "TUNED" to enhance certain things about the audio signal. Some cables really help the high end and reduce the bass and mid bass to "Enhance" The top end. Some systems actually sound "BETTER" with this style of cable. There are other cables that "Enhance" the "Mid Range" and reduce the top and bottom end. This adds some smoothness to "Bass Heavy" or "Bright" systems. This cable design really helps many lower end not as accurate systems. When one put these in a system , they think "WOW What a Difference". What they don't realize is it's at a cost.

    As a musician, I really HATE that so many companies "Tune" their products to sound a certain way. It's a marketing thing thats been going on for years and years and what it does is attract a certain kind of customer. Speakers are probably the biggest culprit. I hate this as I like to hear what was recorded , nothing more , nothing less. Not everyone feels as I do as so many people out their like more. Think of all the people you know who crank the surrounds in a theater system , who crank the sub over reference setting so they can "Impress" there friends with the Monster sub they purchased. Think of all the people who crank the bass on a 2 channel system. All the people who can't watch TV in the native recorded format and feel "Ripped Off" when there are black bars on the TV.

    I don't judge these people anymore , I once use to get so upset when a customer would question my calibration of the system I just Installed for them , spend hours figuring out the best possible placement for their speakers and sub , height of the TV only to get rejected due to personal preferences. OK I learned when to fight my battles but it all stems back to personal taste.

    Back to the wire thing , it really comes down to how much you care about your performance and how far are you willing to go to squeeze out everything you can out of ones system. Wire is a tiresome journey and if one can learn from someone else with experience in designing systems and has done a lot of the home work for you, please take full advantage of that. Then again sometimes that person might be bias towards a certain product or products do to personal gain. It's so difficult to it. But it's out there and when you can find someone that is trust worthy , you really can design a great system for less then one might think.

    Sorry for the rant but wire threads usually go south fast and huge fights get out of hand with personal attacks and all kinds of stuff.
    Last edited by mantis; 11-24-2012 at 09:06 AM.
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  6. #6

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    Bthogan- Thanks for posting your impressions about the Carbon. I'm never heard it, so I can't offer my impressions. I'll just add that when I upgrade something, it always takes some time for me to adjust to the new sound before I can really hear what has changed and whether it's an improvement or not. Leave in the new cable for a few weeks so that you totally acclimate to the new sound then switch back to the old one. I'm able to hear comparisons more clearly this way.

  7. #7

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    In my setup being able to tell the difference in USB cables take alot of time to hear the difference. None that I have tried have made an immediate night or day difference.

    One of my favorites and wish I not sold it was the site where the guy makes them (forget the site but others here have used him) and had him make it without power leads.

    I am using wireworld starlight now.

    I find the differences suttle but they are there.
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  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by thsmith View Post
    In my setup being able to tell the difference in USB cables take alot of time to hear the difference. None that I have tried have made an immediate night or day difference.

    One of my favorites and wish I not sold it was the site where the guy makes them (forget the site but others here have used him) and had him make it without power leads.

    I am using wireworld starlight now.

    I find the differences suttle but they are there.
    Yup, I want to try the wireworld starlight and the carbon. I like the color of the carbon since it goes with all my black gear, but I like the concept of the wireworld stuff since I dont need USB power for it (right now)
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  9. #9

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    Thanks for replies!

    mantis: I would also expect that transmission of digital information would be less susceptible to tweaks than analog. I was originally gonna go with the Cinnamon, but word is that you need to go $100+ to get serious improvement with aftermarket USBs, and I knew that I would always be asking myself what if? I had the extra cash, so I went for it.

    This really is about squeezing all I can out of a good cdp with a feature I really like. For better or for worse, I don't think I'll ever have enough money to wade into serious snake oil waters. I'm gonna try some entry-level Shunyata power cords for various components soon; inexpensive enough that if there's no noticeable improvement, it's no biggie. I'll keep them anyway.

    I'm a passive, zero tone control person myself. I went to separates (and passive/bypassed preamps) specifically to get away from hardwired color. Like I said in OP, I could understand if someone thought that the difference that this cable makes, so far, is "lateral", rather than an improvement (although I would disagree with them), and they didn't like it. Could be a matter of taste.

    As far as appearance goes, I find that to be an unacceptable criterion for equipment. But I'm not married.

    Ern Dog & thsmith: I totally agree re: giving it some time; I wasn't expecting a noticeable difference, at least not so quickly...based on what I'd read, I thought that the first differences might be unpleasant - harshness, grain, lost soundstage, etc. I really did intend to wait a month! But my first few A/Bs were noticeable enough (to me) that I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself - I was ready for no difference, or worse, and the improvement that I thought I heard/hear drove me to my keyboard.

    EndersShadow: It was actually down to the Starlight vs. Carbon for me. Starlight is very highly recommended in discussions about USB cable.

    I feel like I should say again, to everyone, that I don't dismiss the possibility that what I'm hearing is the money that I spent; or at least, that I'm oversensitive to any slight change in sound or SQ, for the same reason. I'll give it some time and come back with some more A/B between stock and burnt-in aftermarket cable.

    Cds in the player, vs. USB w/ this cable, still sound just a bit better. For now.
    Last edited by bthogan; 11-24-2012 at 05:29 PM.
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  10. #10

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    It is in your head. They're called ears. Trust them!

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    I find it interesting to go through the wire learning process. No matter what the outcome is , you get to learn something. I start questioning cables when the sonic benefits don't yield the money your spending. Maybe sometimes in many cases , spending that money on another part of the system might yield better overall results.
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  12. #12

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    [QUOTE=mantis;1840912 I start questioning cables when the sonic benefits don't yield the money your spending. Maybe sometimes in many cases , spending that money on another part of the system might yield better overall results.[/QUOTE]

    Maybe....sometimes. But also by not spending the money on proper cables are you really hearing what that new gear is capable of ? Everything is relevant in audio big guy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Maybe....sometimes. But also by not spending the money on proper cables are you really hearing what that new gear is capable of ? Everything is relevant in audio big guy.
    Agreed, there are times and places to spend on cables and wire. Should you put MIT Shotguns between a 10 dollar cd player and a Sony HTIAB setup, no, but if you've got a decently good setup, better cables may give you the same performance increase as a new piece of gear, and unlike gear cables have as quick a turnover in regards to the introduction of new tech/performance increases, whereas the next big CD player may come out in a week that makes your new gear drop in price.

    Its all subjective and different based on everyones setup so like all things audio YYMV.
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    Nice review! I think I read another review of these Audioquest cables elsewhere that mentioned the Carbon provided the most dramatic impact/difference. Would be curious to hear how it sounds against my Forest cable.

    Glad to hear you are enjoying the sonic benefits of the cable, I'm continuing to log hours on my Marantz and loving it. I recently purchased a 16gb USB thumb drive and am quite impressed at the quality of 320kbps mp3s when piped through the Marantz.

    As a side note regarding the loose connector, did you purchase the cable from Audio Advisor? If so I'm sure they would be happy to swap it out for you, as that sounds like it could be considered a manufacturing defect.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Maybe....sometimes. But also by not spending the money on proper cables are you really hearing what that new gear is capable of ? Everything is relevant in audio big guy.
    Agreed. You have to figure out what level of cables make sense for the system you are building.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clipdat View Post
    Nice review! I think I read another review of these Audioquest cables elsewhere that mentioned the Carbon provided the most dramatic impact/difference. Would be curious to hear how it sounds against my Forest cable.

    Glad to hear you are enjoying the sonic benefits of the cable, I'm continuing to log hours on my Marantz and loving it. I recently purchased a 16gb USB thumb drive and am quite impressed at the quality of 320kbps mp3s when piped through the Marantz.

    As a side note regarding the loose connector, did you purchase the cable from Audio Advisor? If so I'm sure they would be happy to swap it out for you, as that sounds like it could be considered a manufacturing defect.
    I think we probably read the same review! I considered getting a few cables and holding an audition, but even with refunds for returns, I couldn't swing it. So I went with Carbon. Trying to give it a couple of weeks before I "re-review". Nothing but good, though, so far.

    Also, important update: the connector casing is fine; it isn't loose. Never was. My mistake. Sorry, AudioQuest! I misread the cause of some vertical give at the USB input site, and thought it was the casing flopping up and down, but it was actually the USB "plug" on the cdp being pulled down a little - these are big, stiff, heavy cables, relative to ipod stock. Now I position source ipods so that the cdp's USB "plug" isn't pulled downward by the weight of the cable.
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