When I reviewed the Bryston BDA-2 DAC in Issue 233, I ultimately concluded that, as good as its USB input sounded with the USB cables that I had on hand, ranging from the entry-level Belkin Gold through the top-of-the-line WireWorld Platinum Starlight, it still sounded considerably better when connected to the BDP-1 Digital Player through my ED-120 SPDIF cable.
In the intervening years, I have continued searching for a USB cable that would allow the BDA-2’s USB input to equal the performance of its SPDIF and AES/EBU interfaces. I even built a prototype non-standard “data only” USB cable that entirely eliminated the noise-prone 5-volt power line and ground wire, thereby removing those known sources of interference. This prototype USB cable sounded dramatically better than even the most expensive commercially available alternatives I had tested, but it still didn’t sound as good as SPDIF.
On a wild hunch, I ordered an inexpensive but distinctively designed USB 2.0 cable from a mainstream computer accessory manufacturer, hoping that it might work as well as a USB audio cable. From the moment that this cable was installed, even “dead cold,” it utterly trounced every previous USB cable that I had auditioned, including my experimental prototype. After an extended warm-up period, I conducted a lengthy run of skeptical critical listening comparisons, and enthusiastically concluded that this USB cable finally enabled the BDA-2’s USB input to perform at a level competitive with the best SPDIF and AES/EBU alternatives.
Eager to share this encouraging development with industry associates and fellow listeners, I hit the web to stock up on this USB cable, only to find that it had been discontinued by the manufacturer! I scoured the ’Net, and managed to locate half a dozen samples, but further searching has been futile. Disappointed, I moved on, testing a few more designs from well-known high-end manufacturers, none of which approached the performance of my unlikely new “accidental reference” USB cable.
Continuing my quest, I recently found another USB cable that may ultimately prove even better than the aforementioned accidental reference. Fortunately, the Japanese-designed Oyaide Neo d+ Class A USB 2.0 cable is currently available from multiple sources at eminently reasonable prices: $50 for 1 meter, $70 for 2 meter, and $90 for 3 meter lengths. Curiously, the Oyaide d+ series USB cables are not generally available through Oyaide’s high-end accessory distributors; rather, they appear targeted to the professional/performing-musician market.
The Oyaide d+ USB cables feature a flat geometry, similar to that of products from other manufacturers. The black-jacketed Class A model incorporates gold-plated connectors and high-purity copper conductors, though the specific copper formulation has been changed recently, and different suppliers still carry overlapping stock, depending on length. I have one of each, and thus far cannot differentiate between the two by listening.
The less expensive Class B model sports a garish neon-green jacket, and silver-plated copper conductors. The more expensive Class S model is fitted with a white jacket over substantially thicker copper conductors of the same formulation used in the Class A cable, but terminated with platinum- and rhodium-plated connectors. Perhaps the greater conductor area of the Class S cable might benefit longer runs, but the Class A cable seems well-suited for the typical 1 or 2 meter connections between USB sources and DACs, without excessive mass or stiffness stressing the components’ jacks. Prior experience with silver-plated copper and pure silver USB cables informed my decision to opt for the Class A cable’s high-grade copper conductors. For further information visit neo-w.com, but be forewarned that the text on the English site is in dire need of a new translation.
With some trepidation, I installed a 1-meter Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable between the Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player and Bryston BDA-2 DAC. Initial impressions were promising, but not as immediately compelling as my first exposure to the accidental reference USB cable. However, it has become increasingly apparent that for some inexplicable reason, most USB audio cables (and/or the circuits they connect) take an inordinately long time to warm up. Since the beginning of the digital audio era in the 80s, I’ve learned to allow at least four days for CD players, DACs, and other digital components to stabilize after first being powered on. The necessary warm-up period for USB circuits seems to be at least a couple of days longer, perhaps substantially longer.
I auditioned the Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable briefly each day for a week, tracking the sonic changes as it warmed up. Some days it sounded shrill, other days dull. By the fourth day, it sounded quite coherent, and encouragingly similar in many respects to the reference, but still a little sweet and euphonic in the upper octaves. I was unable to conduct any serious listening on the fifth day, but returned on the sixth day to find the residual euphonic sweetness gone. Thankfully, by the seventh day the warm-up process appeared to reach a plateau, as the sound was recognizably similar to that of the preceding day.
And what a sound it is! Or, as is often the case with true progress in this domain, what a sound it isn’t. Music played through the sufficiently warmed-up Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable flows gracefully, with a self-effacing, delicate, open, airy quality. Resolution is extraordinary, but with nary a hint of frequency-specific spotlighting. Tonal balance is coherent from top to bottom, without the added grunge and glare of most USB cables, nor the broad presence range dip and lispy, sparkly top end that euphonically color the sound of pure-silver USB cables.
I’ve never heard superior focus from any digital cable, regardless of format. Every note is reproduced with exceptional timing precision, yielding an unexpected sonic benefit: naturally rich timbres of disarmingly realistic substance, body, and density. This “emergent phenomenon” seems to be the serendipitous byproduct of unprecedentedly accurate temporal alignment of an instrument’s harmonics, which allows the listener’s auditory system to recognize and identify sounds with considerably less mental effort.
Spatially, individual images may initially seem small, until one realizes that this compactness signifies an absence of smearing, vagueness, and bloat. Another telltale indicator that something very right is going on here is the stability of the reproduced soundfield during complex passages and dynamic peaks; instruments don’t splash forward, change size or location, or suffer from timbral shifts. Everything stays put with remarkable solidity and tonal consistency. As a result, one can play music at more realistic volume levels than would otherwise be tolerable.
Preliminary listening suggests that the Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable’s exceptionally linear handling of dynamics across the frequency spectrum may elevate its performance above that of the accidental reference USB cable, which may be just a little too mellow and laid-back. In contrast, energetic music played through the Oyaide cable thrills the listener with unfettered transient peaks. Hearing saxophones, trumpets, and trombones in their full-throated glory is an exhilarating experience, but one which is often marred by either edgy glare or life-robbing compression. The Oyaide cable suffers from neither constraint.
I have a lingering suspicion that the Oyaide cable still hasn’t fully stabilized, having only recently been installed between my Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player and the BDA-2 DAC. But already, the combination is playing with music with such effortlessly engaging vitality and unflustered ease, that I’m sure going to enjoy hearing what it may yet have to offer.
Caveat: The performance of the Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable described above was achieved within a specific context of a dedicated, optimized digital-file player driving a digital-to-analog converter with an exceptionally well-designed USB input. All three components of a USB audio playback chain—source output, cable, and DAC input—must be capable of operating at a level commensurate with the others to achieve maximal performance.
SPECS & PRICING
Conductors: 102SSC, power AWG 21, signal AWG 25
Structure: Flat (inverted concentric structure)
Shield: Double shielding with individually shielded pairs
Sheath: Thermoplastic elastomers
Connectors: USB Type A, USB Type B
Terminals: Gold-plated bronze alloy
Body: PBT + Glass Fiber 30% with aluminum cover
Solder: Oyaide SS-47 for audio
Price: $49.99 (1m), $69.99 (2m), $89.99 (3m)
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