It has been somewhat of a bone of contention whether it is necessary to run external power supplies with USB cables. A couple of manufacturers/designers I have talked with state ‘it’s unnecessary if done correctly’ and others say ‘the computers dirty power needs to be removed and the USB chip should get the cleanest supply available’.
Now I’m no designer or technical whizz kid but I have listened to many USB cables and to these ears regardless of implementation I have found that USB cables display as much difference in sound reproduction as any other digital cables. Some I have experienced with separates PSU’s have not sounded as good as the all in one design and vice versa, proving that implementation of each design from one end to the other is absolutely crucial.
Even though my Mac runs a couple of Paul Hynes’ linear power supplies and its USB output power will be a lot cleaner than most systems, each of the aforementioned designs still have an effect as a whole on sound and I would not under any circumstances rule out the fact that an outboard PSU would now have no effect on overall performance.
Scott Barry’s design of his USB cable without an external power supply is believed by him to be, after rigorous R&D, the most pleasing and best implementation of the cable that he could obtain. The cable has two wires – a data cable of thicker overall proportions and a separate power cable running externally of the main data cable.
There’s no information about the internal structure of the cable and its conductors. Sometimes this is a good thing, not allowing people to have preconceived ideas about what a cable may sound like. I for one never do any research prior to getting a cable, or any other product for that matter, in for review, so I can judge its performance blind – so to speak.
The CAD Cable is well made, solid and flexible, there is plenty of strain relief to protect the annoyingly small solder tags of a USB plug (manufacturers note this point) making routing and connecting very simple compared to some other behemoths I own and have had in the past.
Ed Sheeran’s ‘Runaway’ from the ‘X’ album sounded totally authorative, with distinctively projected and pure vocals that convey a touch of echo applied to the mic and a slap to the drum that produced a crystalline bass line, with punch and rhythm.
Ben Harpers ‘Whipping Boy’ proved that the CAD USB can definitely do texture. Its nature is clean and clear in the top end and full and extended in the lower end. Ben’s playful, raspy guitar had all the presence of its acoustic chamber, the reverbs of its close environment coupled with that textured and detailed upper mid/treble, conveying a most organic and full frequency rendition of the reproduced instrument.
Chris Jones’ ‘Angel From Montgomery’ is one of my truly favourite tracks and the CAD’s ability to render the harmonics and lend its hand to maintaining the system’s wide and tall soundstage was impeccable. A small negative was that I would have liked a bit more warmth in the upper bass, particularly with this track and my all ceramic drivers, which by their very nature require it. Vocals however started from a natural and true distance within the stage and projected with great clarity and control.
The CAD USB conveys such a ‘satisfying’ sound. The data retrieval abilities during complex passages is totally engrossing and never etched, exploring every part of the music without any brightness or analytical portrayal.
Moving onto some Dub Step, Tiesto, Mikado and Seb Fontain, showed that the well balanced nature of the CAD USB was very much at home with fast paced, heavy beats and searing treble, allowing a huge and airy soundstage to fill my entire room with pulsating and explosive dynamics.
To flip the coin again I made a playlist of sultry, sexy and delicate female vocalists. The upper mids in particular were hugely impressive. They exploited all the upper tones of a broadly natured vocal, remained clean and clear and in particular fantastically controlled without rounding any edges or sounding rolled off in any way.
From time to time I loan cables to a friend John, be it my own or ones that have come in for review. John has a high end headphone rig with some pretty serious modifications to the amp, DAC and power supplies, running into a pair of Audeze LCD-2 headphones with the latest driver upgrades. His system is very transparent and shows any changes in system configuration very well. After he had the some time to play with the CAD USB he gave me an update on its performance exclaiming that “vocals have that eerie sensation, the balance is tremendous and top and bottom end sounds very right”.
John listens to a good varied range of genres and spends many hours lost in music and tweaking his system with power cables, interconnects and sockets which he has found makes quite substantial differences in his highly detailed rig. When John reluctantly returned the cable for me to complete my review he stated “this is the best USB cable I’ve heard and I think I’ll buy”.
It can be a little difficult to pin point certain aspects of a cable or piece of electronics when the sound doesn’t do any particular aspect very well but does the whole so impressively good. There’s nothing in particular to latch onto and admire or attribute areas of the system to benefit from its characteristic. Being able to simply sit and listen, not be drawn to any particular area or feature is a testament to the product and the CAD is a fantastic all rounder that excels in not one or two particular aspects, yet impresses emphatically in all.
At its most reasonable price the CAD has to be auditioned, don’t listen with intent, just put your feet up and let the music flow.
Price at time of review – £480 – 1.1m length
Recommended for abundant amounts of detail, top end control and excellent balance, making it one of the very best USB cables on the market.