Over the last year or so the USB cable has received a fair bit of attention from our brands Shunyata and Tara Labs. The performance ceiling of this cable and associated technological know how, the best that is currently available, has been shifting upwards dramatically and this has underlined more than ever before something that we already knew but that now needs spelling out very clearly to customers: The USB cable (or digital cable) might be the most important cable, probably equal in influence and importance to the speaker cables.

I talk to new customers regularly who are using say a £300 USB with a £10,000 DAC. It’s a hopeless and ill-advised mismatch and just really poor system balancing. If I partner our cheapest Vitus DAC the RD-101 in my demo room with a £400 USB cable then honestly you are not even hearing 50% of what it can do, its resolve, its expression, naturalness, soundstaging and refinement. And if you were to listen with me as we went to our £1000 usb cable then incrementally through the range, to our £2000 category and then onto the new flagship offerings, then you would probably be quite staggered as to the performance leaps that you witnessed. Yes, performance upgrades as big and meaningful as box swaps but for costs which are much lower.

If we then repeated the exercise but using an even higher performing DAC like the Brinkmann Nyquist, the Vitus SCD-025 or the Tidal Camira, then the benefits of a better USB cable would be even larger and even more startling. The same would hold true for the streamer, the better the media streamer you have, the more the digital cable can flex its muscle and show off just how crucial it is when it comes to overall sound quality level.

You will notice that I am primarily talking about USB cables here but really that is mainly because the USB has become the favoured and indeed only choice of connection of many of the market leading streamers. The same message applies to other types of digital cable though and if you happen to be using these and we do also sell a comprehensive range of AES and SPDIF cables from Tidal, Shunyata and Tara Labs. Please enquire to find out what we recommend. Shunyata sell Alpha, Sigma and Omega spdif and AES and Tara Labs go from Apollo all the way to Grand Master Evolution.

Turning out attention back onto the USB though, although we do occasionally sell TelluriumQ’s silver diamond USB for the budget concious, and see this as an absolute minimum starting point for a highend digital source, our range gets into real gear with the Shunyata Alpha at £1200 and the equivament Tara Labs “The Artist” at £1295. Both of these are exceptional performers, natural sounding with lots of resolution and not a hint of harshness.

Moving up from these two products we come to the Shunyata Sigma at £2000. Now for some time this was the very best USB we could offer and very impressive it is to. We have many many customers using this with the best DAC’s and streamers we sell. At £2000 it’s expensive but in the context of a good digital front end, a small percentage of the total outlay.

Last year however. Shunyata and Tara Labs moved the goal posts on further and gave us the Omega and the Grand Master. We have been performing lots of demos of these two, sometimes with the demo sample literally shipping from house to house, one customer to the next, selling each time and then moving on to the next home demo. In one instance I had a customer who was already using the Shunyata Sigma in a very good system so in trying the Omega he was only experiencing a jump of one rung on the lader but he was simply flabbergasted at the improvement that made, all from what is essentially a computer cable.

If the Shunyata Omega has an amazing width and depth, a touch of warmth in the lower registers, the Tara counters with a cleaner delivery and even more detail, especially in the higher frequencies. The go about things ever so slightly differently and it makes for a great choice to suit each different system.

So there it is. A fairly short message about the importance of the digital cable. We all like upgrading boxes but amplifiers and DAC’s all start at a very high level even at more modest budgets and so most of the time cables and mains can make more difference to a system, especially digital cables and the connection from streamer or transport to DAC. Be mindful of what you are using and how much it is allowing you to reveal your source potential and if you are after a sizeable yet relatively cost effective performance boost, then look no further than a new USB.