Cables - The Missing Link - Desktop Audio Upgrade Part 2
So over the last two or three weeks I’ve grown accustomed to the sound of the Nuforce Icon HDP and Quad QPM1 combination. The HDP has been connected to the iMac via the supplied generic USB cable supplied in the box. The Quads have had the audio signal passed to them via a couple of Monster Audio 250 Interlink phono cables. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working late on the computer and listening to music with a pair of Sennheiser HD 238 ‘phones plugged into the HDP. Although the sound from the Quads has been pretty damn good it struck me that the sound from the 238’s was a bit punchier, cleaner, smoother and had a far better sense of depth and airiness around the instruments. Now these are good, but not great, cans. They certainly sound much better through the HDP than they do through my iPhone. It’s clear the HDP has far more power available to drive them properly. But they are not in the same audio league as the Quads.
So why did they sound better? What I was hearing from the Quads was beginning to annoy me. Complex passages of music, be it driving rock or orchestral pieces, were indistinct and lacked pace and dynamism. Compared to the headphones the sound was nowhere near as refined and articulate. At times with the headphones on I forgot I was wearing them and I was convinced sounds were actually coming from the room around me. I didn’t get this effect with the Quads.
Surely it couldn’t be the cables? As far as I was aware all the USB cable had to do was feed a bunch of zeros and ones along some copper and into the HDP DAC. Being digital, I wasn’t convinced the signal could degrade enough over the metre length of the cable to make much difference to the DAC. Then I started looking into it and discovered that cable manufacturers were adamant that jitter and timing errors could have a significant effect on the DAC’s ability to convert the data stream without introducing a detrimental effect on the audio fidelity. I have to admit that I was quite sceptical about this. But then again it all seemed quite technical and the more I read the more I began to be persuaded there might just be something in their claims. Also from my experience of the Quad 12l2’s in the front room hooked up to the Arcam with Audioquest Indigo cable I was sure the Quad QPMs should sound a hell of a lot better than they currently did.
The Wireworld Ultraviolet USB cable was getting rave reviews from the likes of What Hi-fi and they’re generally fairly reliable. I decided to take the plunge. I’ve always thought that the rule of allocating 10% of your expenditure on the audio gear should be allocated to cabling was a sensible one. I’ve never regretted any of the cable upgrades I’ve made in the past. So the Wireworld cable might sort out some of the digital confusion but I then had to deal with the analogue side.
I’ve never really rated Monster Cables. I think they’re overhyped and any cable manufacturer that flogs their wares in an electrical shop that also sells washing machines and fridges has got to be a bit a bit suspect. I’d only bought the 250 interconnect as a last resort because I couldn’t be bothered making the trip into town to by something better. I had a hunch the 250 cable was basically junk. Having read great reviews on the Chord Crimson Plus interconnect I decided I’d give it a try. What Hi-fi (again) had awarded it best cable of the year. It seemed to possess all the characteristics I was looking for. Transparency, neutrality, openness, good bass control, improved dynamics, great detail and acoustic delay. And quite affordable.
Knowing that poor cabling was very probably the root of my problems I was excited to try out the cables. I got home today and rewired the system and fired up the iMac. I can honestly say that the difference was immediately apparent. Anybody that tells you that cabling doesn’t make a difference to the quality of your system has never actually tried changing their wiring.
The difference really is immense. I was quite surprised and thrilled to hear the difference the new wiring made. Well worth the investment. Everything suddenly makes sonic sense. Everything is placed properly across the sound stage. The balance that the recording engineer intended is immediately apparent. A sense of scale and dynamics, sorely missing before, has been restored. The sense that you’re there with the musicians right in front of you is now evident. This, really, is what the hi-fi enthusiast is really striving for. Finally, it’s all come together. For the sound quality I now have in my first truly dedicated computer based audiophile grade audio system I'm delighted. And for the price I paid, a bargain. Plus it will last a lifetime.
Buy decent audio gear while your ears are still capable of hearing it!