Do digital cables matter? Can they?

Tom Martin -- Tue, 01/19/2010 - 17:26

Chris' review of the Furutech GT2 USB cables certainly created a stir. But that's not why I think the review and comments are worth reading. Some site members add insights into why interfaces might matter in digital audio when they don't in data-oriented computing.
The review and comments are here:

ScottB (not verified) -- Wed, 01/20/2010 - 18:12

 I posted a long response at the end of that comment thread earlier today, only to realize that the review is weeks old, and nobody will read it. But at least, it made me feel better :)

1likeh1f1 (not verified) -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 13:21

Scott, that was an excellent post.

Several months ago, I read a "lay" article on this topic that included a very concise explanation of "pre-echo". It really resonated with me and helped me understand the most destructive aspect of jitter. I'll try to summarize the pertinent part (in my own words, so please excuse any minor flubs): In nature, we are accustomed to hearing "echo" - that is a trailing bit of noise following the sound we are expecting to hear (e.g., whether we are outside yelling for our kids to come into supper or inside hearing the click of the shutting microwave door resonate off our kitchen walls - I'm drafting this around lunch time, hence the specific illustrations chosen :-) To the degree that digital jitter introduces audible artifacts in those brief miliseconds FOLLOWING the sound we expect to hear, those are things we can process within the realm of normal experience. What is totally unnatural and therefore most foreign to our neuro-sensory hearing is "pre-echo" - that element of digital jitter that causes the mis-timed artifacts associated with a particular sound to be delivered BEFORE the sound itself (like hearing the crunch of the pizza crust just as the piece touches your lips for a bite - OK; I won't enter a post during mealtime ever again!)

Digital jitter makes no distinction on its own. It will introduce artifacts both before and after the sound to which it is related. It has been explained (better than I can ever hope to here) that the "pre-echo" is the element of digitally reproduced sound that most causes some to perceive it as "edgy", especially when compared with high quality analogue reproduction. It certainly makes sense in my mind since those "pre-echo" artifacts occur no-where else in nature and our sensory perception cannot process it as we have been "wired" as humans. And, I have experienced that "edgy" feeling while listening to poorly engineered recordings on a cheap MP3 system. So, the proper clocking of data in hi-def digital audio is essential and elemental to providing high quality playback (so is good source material for that matter - but that's another topic entirely!)

ANY digital component (be it the drive providing the source material, the shielded cables that minimize the introduction of EMI/RFI into the signal being carried and provides all of the necessary bandwidth - all the way down the chain through the DAC) involved in the handling of the proper transmission, clocking and processing of the data must address this important issue effectively or we "lose the war".

I hope someone finds this explanation of jitter useful. Address it effectively, along with high quality musical source material (i.e., sufficient "native" bit/sample rate, properly recorded and engineered, etc.) and other high quality sound system components that one must have in any sound system expected to deliver reference quality playback, and it is my expectation and hope that we will all be able to enjoy the highest quality of music reproduction that has EVER been achieved, regardless of medium, cost, etc. I believe that hi-def digital playback is the future of our hobby and I certainly hope that it will continue to garner more regular, ongoing attention in audiophile pubs, these blogs and other info sources for our hobby.

Happy listening!

Tom Martin -- Thu, 01/21/2010 - 17:36

The piece Scott refers to above in edited form is here:

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

zead (not verified) -- Thu, 01/21/2010 - 18:19

  SOTTB,   don't worry it will be read...i enlightened me some..thanks

joe.crowe -- Tue, 11/02/2010 - 02:13

A late reply I know but perhaps others may benefit. Sorry to hear of your tuner troubles. In my experience tuner repairs are 1) expensive, 2) unsatisfactory 3) short lived. Whenever someone is faced with tuner trouble I say don't bother. Assuming your set has some type of baseband input get a cheap VCR or DVD player with a tuner and hook up that way. This is a cheap, disposable substitute for the failed tuner and in most cases you end up with better pictures as even decent sets seem to have questionable tuners. Tuner failures are the newer version of the old, dreaded "the picture tube is shot and it costs more than the set is worth to replace" scenario. Too late for you but if anyone has a working TV with a dead tuner a $40. Walmart special will save you costly and frustrating repairs while you save up for that great HD rig you really want.

Tom Martin -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 15:57

A few notes, to help limit confusion. First, the commentary above is largely in the context of audio, not video. Second, it sounds like you have an HDMI compatibility problem. Some experience with HDMI cables says they can make an "it works/it doesn't work" difference if the cable is long at least. But I can imagine that your problem is having an HDMI box not compatible with the latest HDMI protocols.

If your current box does not do HD, I think you will immediately notice the difference in picture when you try an HD box. Whether that's "worth it" only you can say. LIke you said, you can try it and if you don't like it go back. I assume the SDTV box has a component or composite output and the Toshiba has one of those inputs.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

mandel1luke@yah... -- Sat, 08/14/2010 - 03:53

Bits are bits, but music playback is a realtime phenomenon. For JPEG, DOC files etc it really doesn't matter when your data arrive.

Maybe what Chris could do is to try out an asynchronous DAC.  If switching cables there doesn't make a difference, then the difference may be attributed to jitter, ie. timing error.

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