Appalling: ‘audiophile’ USB cables

The gains in low-end body and punch, midrange spaciousness and detail, and high-end smoothness alone are significant.

So sayeth What Hi-Fi. Apparently if you spend 50 UK pounds on the Wireworld Ultraviolet USB cable (I’m assuming one metre), that’s the improvement you will experience.

Seriously, what a load of crap!

What gets me about this kind of thing isn’t the vendors. As it happens, I don’t know whether Wireworld are delusional or fraudulent. Just as I don’t know the truth about the vendors of the Power Balance Bracelet. I do know that despite the ‘significant’ improvements in those airy-fairy subjective claims of spaciousness and body and detail, Wireworld have come up with two more cables. These ones actually use a ‘DNA Helix conductor layout’ that must obviously be better than than just about anything. After all, aren’t we made of DNA. Isn’t our frequency 7.83Hz (as claimed by Power Balance)?

And the prices make it impossible that they could be anything other than better. 249 UK pounds for the cheapie, and 499 for the pricey. Remember, these are one metre long USB cables, the main purpose of which is to carry, mostly, digital audio (packaged into USB format serial data) of CD-ish densities. (Or less. Did they do their listening tests with MP3 perhaps?)

As it happens, a while back I demonstrated that 44 metres of crappy audio cables, roughly joined together, could comfortably (almost) carry 3.5x CD capacity.

Neither do I blame the customers, at least in terms of regarding them with moral opprobrium. I have myself been swayed, momentarily, from time to time, by the purveyors of this kind of plastic and wire snake oil. If you’re a decent human being who generally likes people, the sheer conviction displayed by some adherents of this weird faith can be quite persuasive.

For me it is only ‘momentarily’ because I’ve learnt some stuff about myself. I know for a fact that I am very gullible in the face of a well-acted lie. I learnt that when I was a young policeman and tended to believe what the crims would tell me, until the senior policeman would thump the interview table, and they’d tell the truth. I learnt to follow the logic and evidence, not my sense of whether someone was truthful or not.

Who I do blame are the writers at What Hi-Fi, and any other writers who go along with this crap. They are being paid to deliver a service to the readers, and they are allowing themselves to be fooled by their own misconceptions, and thereby misleading their readers.

If they find themselves able to claim that a friggin’ USB cable can ‘significantly’ improve sound quality, then I would suggest that you cannot trust their views on how an amplifier sounds, how a CD player sounds. Indeed, how a loudspeaker sounds! Their opinions are worthless.

If I am wrong about this, then the writers at What Hi-Fi, or some others, can easily prove me so, and earn themselves a stack of money in the process. Just take Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge. He has previously permitted analogue cable devotees to start the process. But they’ve pulled out before getting very far.

So, come on. Prove me wrong! Prove you aren’t being paid good money by your magazines to simply spread your delusions about what you’re hearing.

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13 Responses to Appalling: ‘audiophile’ USB cables

  1. Simon Reidy says:

    I couldn’t agree more with every point you make. I’m a frequent listener of the Australian Skeptics podcast and they obviously talk about “power bracelet” and “magical cables” kind of bullshit all the time.

    I’m astounded that a top selling UK magazine would print such garbage. Its actually embarrassing. What this shows is that they have a complete lack of understanding of the fundamental laws of physics and computers. This isn’t advanced stuff either, we’re talking year 10 level skills here.

    If a USB cable could actually alter the way something sounded, then everything we know about computers would suddenly be wrong and they would cease to work. Computers rely on a very solid principal of “on or off” states. There is no in-between. Its impossible that the properties of data transmission could be altered by the carrying cable, unless it was of such poor quality that it ceased to transmit data at all.

    Are they suggesting that the cable itself decodes the signal, then adds extra zeros and ones in real-time that enhance the sound quality (which in itself is near impossible) then re-encode the signal with its new magical sound, before it’s sent on its way to the other end again? Because in reality that’s what would have to happen!

    I wonder what would happen if you used one of these USB cables with your pinter? Would it enhance the colours and add cute pictures of cats to every document? 🙂

  2. Victor says:

    “I wonder what would happen if you used one of these USB cables with your pinter? Would it enhance the colours and add cute pictures of cats to every document?”

    Presumabley colours would gain in body and punch, shapes in spaciousness and detail, and lines in smoothness. I think pictures of cute cats is far fetched, but I have heard (in non-blind tests) that the paper appears whiter.

    I’m sure if there was some way to plug a audiophile cable into a bottle of chardonnay, the wine would gain body and punch, with more spacious detail and character, and smoothness on the palate.

  3. Stephen Dawson says:

    Reminds me of comments on Amazon for a particularly expensive audiophile Ethernet cable. See here.

  4. Michael Cuddihy says:

    wild applause for all of the above

  5. Mark says:

    It would be nice if critical thinking skills were part of the school curriculum. At least believing the BS about these cables isn’t likely to harm you. However its this same lack of critical thinking that leads to believing in useless alt med “therapies” and fake bomb detectors that do cause harm.

  6. Al says:

    The worst example of this is the monster instore demoes. Where composite is the non monster alternative. These have slowly dissapered from stores. I imagine trade practices would have had a field day.

    I must say from kordz talks have attended there are differences in hdmi cables. Eg in gauge and construction. And these do impact on both bandwidth and over longer distances. Though never heard such stuff re USB cables …are these being used for audio for asynchronous USB ?

    Pretty awe full example the Ethernet cable sorry. Denon never made any claims. Not something they ever pushed. Just had in their inventory made for them by accuphase who make a similar cable for similar price. They were just selling it for those customers whom wanted a nice looking well made cable. Not really sure what the relevance in this case…

    Ps the article re usb cables was ‘what hifi’ ?..what more is there to say…

  7. Fredrik says:

    I’m always surprised by the lack of blind testing. Obviously, it’s very difficult to test, say, loud speakers this way (although Harman does it), but cables would seem feasible to test.

  8. Stephen Dawson says:

    Hi Al. I only mentioned the Denon one only because Victor’s comment reminded me of some of the comments people made on Amazon for that particular product. Many of them were really very funny. I agree about Denon: it doesn’t try to fool people into thinking its bits of wire are ever so much better than other companies. It engineers solid, clever and useful products. And, indeed, pre-HDMI, it was one of the few companies that had a solution to the digital transport of higher resolution audio from source to amplifier.

  9. Peter says:

    Sorry about that. I re-read some of the articles and it looks like USB cables are mentioned. I just can’t believe that anybody pays these amazing prices for cables whether it be USB, HDMI or speaker.

  10. Stephen Dawson says:

    No worries Peter. Good link! Custom made USB cable, only $2,999! At least shipping is free.

  11. PuérilChaussette says:

    I am now using my expensive Wireworld Platinum USB cable on my old Canon Printer.
    The black color has never been so black, the white are whiter and the other colors are more colorful. I see a lot of details that I could not see before.
    This is witchcraft!
    People cannot imagine how an expensive USB cable can carry 0 & 1 better than another.

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