Over the past year I’ve been using the USB output from my MacBook Pro sparingly. This was not my original intent, but ever since I set up a NAS drive the Lumin A-1 Network Music Player (Issue 248) has been my go-to digital source. Consequently, USB kind of fell off the radar. However, having just powered up the excellent new Esoteric K-03x, which is equipped with USB and multiple 32-bit DACs, I thought it a good time to put a little USB back in my life. Fortuitously, I also had two new USB cables on hand—the makings of a tidy little comparison.
For the tests I used a MacBook Pro, running iTunes/Pure Music, connected via USB to the Esoteric K-03x, a Classé Audio CP-800 preamp and CA-D200 amplifier, and the Dali Rubicon 6 or TAD CE-1 loudspeakers. Loudspeaker and interconnect cables were Synergistic Research Atmospheres, and power cables were Audience Au24SE’s.
Clarus Cable Crimson USB
Clarus Cable has quickly gained a well-deserved reputation for standout performance at reasonable prices (for the high end anyway). Its USB cable uses conductors of 22-gauge PCOCC (Pure Copper by the Ohno Continuous Casting) and 6% silver plating. Power conductors are 20 gauge. Clarus uses proprietary twisting to reduce noise and jitter, and separate shielding for both signal and power conductors. The five separate shields in the Crimson include aluminum foil, copper foil, and braided silver-plated copper. Signal conductors are insulated with high-grade, high-density polyethylene, while the jacketing is PVC with nylon braiding.
The Clarus USB nails the middle range of the musical spectrum with a fullness of body, a timbral warmth, a transient alacrity, and an overall honesty that calms and relaxes the ear. As I listened to Laurel Massé’s luminous a cappella performance of “How Can I Keep From Singing,” I was struck by how persuasively warm and articulate the character of this cable was. Its balance and its light touch with vocal sibilance were excellent.
During the Tchaikovsky, the Clarus USB reproduced Anne Sophie-Mutter’s violin with a little more grit, a little more tension in the upper octaves, yet had a nice enveloping warmth and weight with larger stringed instruments like cello and contrabass. Low-end response was powerful and expansive with hints of added bloom that on one level conveyed a lively venue atmosphere but on another suggested some minor pitch ambiguity.
Throughout this survey I kept returning to the ballet section of Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps, specifically the opening flute theme with harp accompaniment (later joined by percussion triangle and strings). In this delicate example of low-level interplay the Clarus was slightly darker in character and transparency seemed ever so slightly muted—a minor subtraction.
Summary: The Clarus is an authentic bargain with performance that flirts with top-tier cables. A terrific upgrade cable (a standard-setter in this range) for nascent and experienced computer-audio fans alike.