In October, 2009 I posted a blog on the AVguide.com Web site describing my initial reactions to Furutech’s GT2 high-performance USB cable, which were favorable. I thought then, and think now, that the cable made positive differences that most any listener with a reasonably decent sound system could hear and enjoy.
Little did I know at the time that the blog would become a magnet for critical commentary from self-proclaimed “real electrical engineers” eager to stamp their feet, make disparaging comments, and to argue (or even to “prove”) that high quality USB cables can’t possibly make an audible difference. My thought: perhaps engineers—like politicians—would be better creative problem solvers if only they were not blinded by what the late President Reagan might have termed “the things they know that just aren’t so.”
Thus far, my practical observations have been that A) there are indeed sonic differences between USB cables (despite what some techno-pundits would have you believe), and that B) good digital audio cables can and do make beneficial sonic differences you can easily hear. Can I explain why the cables make a difference? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t change my observations.
Thus, my challenge to skeptics is a simple one: set aside your preconceptions and carefully compare USB cables playing actual music through your preferred reference USB DAC in a good sound system. See what (if any) differences you observe. If one cable does consistently sound better to you than another, then you’ve found a good thing. If not, then no real harm has been done (apart from having enjoyed a good evening of music, which is surely not a bad thing).
Having lived with the Furutech GT2 USB cable for several months now and having tested it with a number of USB DACs, I’ve decided to expand my original blog comments into the review you’re reading now. But before I go any further, some background is in order.
Millions of music lovers have found it desirable to store their music collections is on the hard drives of their computers (or on attached outboard storage devices), and more often than not USB has become the digital audio interface of choice for those PC-based music systems. Most if not all of today’s computers sport USB ports, so it comes as no surprise that, among audiophiles who favor computer-based music systems, there has been an explosion of interest in USB DACs. There’s no denying the appeal of having all your music stored in one place, neatly cataloged, and ready to play at the click of a mouse button—provided, of course, that there’s no penalty in sound quality. Ah, but there’s the rub.
Many audio reviewers and other music lovers have discovered that when you play identical digital audio files through USB and then through S/PDIF interfaces on the same audio DACs, the resulting sounds you’ll hear through those interfaces are not identical. While user comments vary somewhat, many listeners perceive that the “S/PDIF sound” is typically smoother, more focused and refined, and more three-dimensional than the equivalent “USB sound”—differences that might be attributable either to the interfaces themselves or the quality of the cables used to carry the digital audio signals (or perhaps both).
Some readers will find these statements unbelievable—or perhaps the products of overactive audiophile imaginations. But again, I would encourage skeptics or really anyone interested in PC-based audio systems to conduct the experiment for themselves. Get a DAC that has both USB inputs and S/PDIF inputs and then try playing identical lossless audio files through one interface and then the other. Take notes on what you hear. My bet is that you’ll find differences that are real, easy to observe, and that follow roughly the pattern I’ve sketched above.
On one hand, USB interfaces are extremely convenient and more or less ubiquitous. On the other hand, it seems the sound quality of digital audio as played through USB interfaces, though admirable in many ways, is really not all that it could or should be—and typically not as good as what you’d hear through S/PDIF interfaces. Now obviously few of us are in a position to influence or improve the USB interface specification, but one thing we can control is the quality of the USB cables we use—essentially trying to remove the cable as a potential source of noise, jitter-inducing internal reflections, or other digital audio data transmission problems. Furutech believes USB-based audio systems are potentially “capable of smooth and detailed sound,” but contends, “you need quality, well-engineered and built USB cables to get there.” This, of course, is where the Furutech GT2 USB cable comes in.