Audience is an interesting company. Although this 18-year-old firm offers signal cables, AC power cords, AC power conditioners, and speakers, it doesn’t easily fit into any of those particular niches. Audience brings products to market only when it believes it can contribute something unique—no matter the category. Take its 1+1 loudspeaker, for example. With two 3" full-range drivers in a bipole configuration, dual side-firing 3.5" passive radiators, and no crossover, the 1+1 is not your typical speaker. Yet its combination of midrange clarity, transparency, resolution, and naturalness of timbre is sublime.
Audience’s new Au24 SE USB cable is similarly distinctive—and similarly impressive. The culmination of nearly two years of development, the Au24 SE breaks new ground in USB cable performance, in my experience.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Au24 SE has two jacketed sets of conductors rather than one. One set carries the signal, and the other, the power. The data conductors are shielded silver-coated OCC copper wires with Teflon insulation. The power conductors are also shielded and made from OCC copper wire with polypropylene insulation. This separation of signal and power conductors is reportedly key to the Au24 SE’s performance. The Au24 is available with either one or two USB-A connectors at the source end. In the single-connector version, the power and signal conductors are joined at the USB connector. In the double-connector version, data and power are sent from two different USB busses for greater isolation. I evaluated the dual-connector version.
The Au24 SE is a super-premium design with a premium price: $945 for a meter with two USB connectors, and $895 for the single-connector version. Like other products in the Audience catalog, the Au24 SE is intended to deliver uncompromised performance.
I listened to the dual-connector Au24 SE in the link between a MacBook Pro running iTunes/Pure Music and a Berkeley Alpha USB USB-to-AES/EBU converter. This then fed a Berkeley Alpha Reference Series DAC via an AudioQuest AES/EBU digital interconnect. Amplifiers were Soulution 701 monoblocks driving Magico Q7 loudspeakers through MIT Oracle cable. In other words, this is a reference-quality system that lays bare every other link in the chain.
I’ve listened to a number of top-end USB cables, but none approaches the Audience in sheer naturalness of timbre. The Au24 has an extremely smooth, rich, and liquid rendering of tone color that is a welcome departure from the many USB cables that impart a synthetic, “plastic” character to the sound. Midrange textures through the Au24 SE are rich, dense, dark, complex—even voluptuous. The tendency for USB to sound a bit mechanical and artificial is replaced by an organic flow and ease with the Au 24 SE in the system. Similarly, the treble is the antithesis of bright, hard, forward, and thin. The top octaves never call attention to themselves; the treble sounds like a natural part of an instrument’s timbre rather than a separate component.