This is Audio Bacon, so we’re going to talk audiophile cables. If someone tells you to focus on cables last when building a HiFi system, they’re probably not that experienced with cables. The right cabling could be the difference between loving and hating your system. As it turns out, the USB cable has a substantial audible impact on the sound from the Phoenix.
Although you don’t need an aftermarket USB cable to get great sound from the Phoenix (it does most of the heavy lifting), you could improve a few aspects of the sound with one. The main problem with the stock USB cable is tone. It sounds more porcelain, gray, and overly smoothed. There’s no grit, grooves, or golden hues to the sound. It handles dynamics and transients with more broad force. And throws some of the lower level cues out the window. The sound is also smaller and congested. You can’t hear the layering, tonal variances, or complexities provided by some aftermarket cables.
You’ll Need Two
We’ll need a USB cable from the server to the Phoenix. And another one from the Phoenix to the DAC. The two I’ll be using will be the Danacable TruStream and Final Touch Audio Callisto USB cables.
- Danacable TruStream ($599): This USB cable has been my reference for the past 5+ years. This is solely due to its level of detail and being the most tonally accurate USB cable I’ve heard so far. When I use any other USB cable, I can’t seem to correct the tone in other ways. But its biggest drawback is density. It’s not a very meaty sounding cable but is as raw as it gets. Although not as tangible, the sound is vivid, focused, and textured.
- Final Touch Audio Callisto ($865): I recently discovered this cable. Big thanks to AB reader David Botting. He also came from the Danacable TruStream. Although the Danacable is still slightly more accurate tonally, the FTA Callisto offers up more weight, density, smoothness, and bass. It’s an amazing cable and I may be purchasing another one.
- Intona Ultimate ($2,426.92): Incredible build quality, probably the best I’ve seen. Now this cable has the sonic qualities of the other two cables – but the tone is more of a neutral grayish. It’s actually pretty similar to the stock USB’s tone. But it also has more gravity and tangibility over the other two. If you prefer a super high performance, more neutral, and clean sound, this might be a better cable for you.
Which USB cable has a greater impact?
From my listening tests, the stereo takes the character of the cable between the server and Phoenix much more. You could still hear the differences in cables from the Phoenix to the DAC but it’s more subtle.
My favorite combination was to have the FTA Callisto between the reclocker and server. And the Danacable TruStream from reclocker to DAC. This arrangement just strikes a nice balance of tone, grip, coherence, and presence. It complements the Danacable by giving it more fill and mold. However, swapping USB cable positions and the Danacable seems to color the sound in a more natural way. The drawback is that it sounds a little thinner and rougher. Essentially, the FTA makes it sounds like they’re physically present and the Danacable makes for more faithful tonality. If the tone is your #1 priority, then you would put the Danacable between the Phoenix and server.
After swapping other cables around, I realize the cable between Phoenix and server almost overrides the Phoenix to DAC cable. In short, use the better cable between server and reclocker. The cable from reclocker to DAC doesn’t matter as much. From my years of experience, a good USB cable could make or break the sound of your system. I would not consider it a trivial component.