Hapa Ember USB Cable Review

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WGH

Hapa Ember USB Cable Review
« on: 3 Aug 2021, 10:33 pm »
This was a fun week, a new Hapa Ember USB cable and a new music server. I use the Hapa Quiescence S and Quiescence GS between the DAC - preamp - amp, the Ember USB has a very nice synergy with those interconnects and there is definitely a family resemblance.

The special weave can be seen through the semi-transparant sleeve. The Ember is very flexible, just like the interconnects. The USB conections almost define audiophile jewelry, they are solid metal, easy to hold and look like they will take a lot of abuse.



My system has remained the same as in my interconnect review except for the music server upgrade. The sound remains the same except now the server works 100% of the time, the old server was 10 years old and had it's share of glitches. Since I reused the PPA card and SSD there was no break-in period, the sound stabilized in an hour and hasn't changed.

Some of the music I listened to with the Hapa Ember USB:




The Hapa Ember USB webpage has a description of the cable construction, it says:

"...While inexpensive USB cables manage to somewhat balance these things, they do so at a substantial loss of fidelity when streaming data leaving a subjectively weak and emotionless performance. The reasons for this are numerous from failure to segregate the 5 volt leg from the data leg properly, to the use of inferior materials."

"...Inside of Ember is an 8 wire teflon insulated packet that has been braided with a specific ratio wherein the data plus and data minus legs are in close proximity, yet do not run parallel. This data bundle is then covered in a silk nylon layer which is then covered with the 5 volt DC leg and common leg that are arranged in a braided geometry based on our DCS Geometry."


Jason takes great care in separating and isolating the 5 volt DC leg so I decided to test his theory by comparing the Ember to my JMaxwell Data Only USB cable which doesn't have a 5v leg at all. My USB/SPDIF converter has it's own linear regulated power supply. I have no idea if the 5v leg is connected inside the converter, it's the best I can do, my AVA DAC doesn't have a USB input.

Comparing the Ember to the JMaxwell was similar to what row you sit in at a concert. The JMaxwell is like row 2, detailed, not brighter but with an immediacy and bite, like sitting close to the band with an excitement you can feel. Separation, image specificity and depth are all pretty good. A front row seat is exciting but sometimes instruments jump out more than others, a horn or singer can really grab and hold your attention but you don't want to listen from the front row all the time. The JMaxwell with the PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock amps was like sitting in the best seat at a recording studio.

The Ember USB moves your seat to the 10th row. Still close but not as far back as mid-hall. The sound is still detailed but more like a band playing together. A little more relaxed, more cohesive and better balanced.  The Ember makes the sound a musical experience. There is also more hall sound in the 10th row so the "in the room" feeling the Hapa interconnects bring is enhanced. The 3-D space is still there but more so, it's not like the Ember is adding anything, more like it is getting out of the way. Details in recordings are revealed not by adding brightness but by quietness.

I use the JRiver Media Player. I.Greyhound Fan, who's opinion I respect and agree with almost all the time, thinks JRiver is midfi at best and prefers Bug Head Infinity Blade and Audirvana. Luckily Audirvana has a 30 day free trial, after that it can get expensive with a $5.83 (before VAT) monthly subscription. I still prefer JRiver as my music player. The comparison was interesting, at first Audirvana had slightly attenuated highs which made it sound like there was more bass. I switched to the JMaxwell USB and the correct balance returned. This was using the KingRex UC384 asyc-USB DDC [WASAPI] driver.

For the second trial I put the Ember USB back in and changed Audirvana to use Kernal Streaming. This change made the sound in line with what I heard with JRiver. So either changing USB cables or the digital output in Audivana can make it sound pretty good. Audirvana (Kernal Streaming?) does seem to flatten the sound stage, micro-detail is suppressed so the software is a no-go for me. But if your system doesn't resolve low level information you will never know it is missing.

Based on the differences between audio players, WASAPI, ASIO and Kernal Streaming, Realtek and custom drivers for an audio grade sound card I can see how reviews for USB cables can be all over the place.

Both the JMaxwell and Ember USB cables are excellent, my impression is the difference is like a well done horn speaker and a Salk speaker with the RAAL tweeter. One is immediate and exciting, the other disappears and lets the music flow. Now there certainly is some special synergy going on with all these Hapa cables in the system. What the Ember does with space is easily heard because all Hapa cables are a champ at resolving micro-detail. Reviewers using different interconnects will certainly hear the balanced presentation.

Music lovers who already own Hapa interconnects absolutely need to get the Ember USB cable. I know I will.


Pez

Re: Hapa Ember USB Cable Review
« Reply #1 on: 5 Aug 2021, 05:02 pm »
WGH,
Thanks for the thoughtful review!

I’ll add more thoughts later, but I wanted to chat about something you brought up which is the 5 volt leg. The 5 volt leg in USB is well known for inducing a ton of noise into the data legs. The result is that severely digital sound most commonly associated with computer audio.

Many cable engineers tackle the problem by either removing the 5V leg all together or putting it in a separate sleeve of some sort. Both are valid ways of approaching the problem, however removing the 5 volt leg introduces its own set of issues.

Many “portable” dacs require the 5V to operate. And in the case of using iFi ANC devices removing the 5 volt leg means these devices will not work on the DAC end. Last but not least, some devices need that 5 volt leg to establish connection. If it’s missing they’ll just plain not work without using special tricks.

So for compatibility sake and usability, I made the choice to keep the 5 volt leg in. The way I approached segregating the 5 volt leg was threefold:

First, the data core runs through the center of the cable, then a silk nylon sleeve is installed over the core. The 5 volt leg and common are then installed on top of the nylon core. This nylon core provides a minimum 1 mm spacing from the data core and the distance of the 5volt leg is then varied utilizing the braid to alter the spacing an additional distance approximately up to 3mm.

Second, the 5 volt leg is then geometrically braided to be at 45 degrees at all times from the data core which further reduces the potential for crosstalk.

Third, the 5 volt leg traverses the cable chiral left handed while the common traverses chiral right handed so they are segregated from each other at 90 degree angles. Not only does this reduce crosstalk, the entire geometric braid acts as the second shield for the data core!

That’s just the surface of the geometry. Believe it or not it takes this level of precision to get this design to work at all without a physical shield, let alone sound as full and detailed as it does.  8)
« Last Edit: 5 Aug 2021, 08:01 pm by Pez »

krustykat

Re: Hapa Ember USB Cable Review
« Reply #2 on: 31 Aug 2021, 06:26 pm »
I was on the second leg of the Ember tour and got the opportunity to break in the cable and the iFi devices that Jason included with the cable.    I must thank Jason for the opportunity to listen to one of his newest designs.

I used several different systems to break in the devices and evaluate. 
  • Macbook Pro with usb c output to Audioquest Cobalt Dragonfly.  This was used to break in and evaluate the ifi silencer plus with the usb c connection.
  • UltraRendu to SMSL M400 to Woo Audio WA-5LE.  This was used to break in the ifi silencer with the usb a-b connection and the ifi Purifier.
  • Innuos Zenith MK3 to Vinnie Rossi 2.0 DAC.  This was used to break in and evaluate the Ember USB a-b cable.  I also evaluated the ifi silencer and purifier on this system.
To be truthful, I didn't find the iFi devices to be of much of a positive benefit on my systems, other than the ifi silencer with the USB C connection.  I put 200+ hours on these devices trying to break them in, but perhaps they need a few hundred more hours to fully bloom.  On a positive note, when listening with my Campfire Satsuma IEMs, it made these almost unlistenable IEMS loose some harshness and put more of a softer edge on the music coming out.  The USB C connection had the annoying tendency to slip out of my USB connection on the MacBook Pro.  It  didn't fit in some of the usb c slots due to my laptop hard shell. I'd recommend a USB-C to USB-C extender cable instead of plugging into the laptop directly.  Plugging a dongle into a laptop's connection directly is just asking for it to be broken by a clumsy user.

BUT, the Ember cable is the real deal.  I compared the ember to my gallery of USB cables I have kicking around and it beat every single one of them, hands down.  The one attribute of the cable that I found the most enticing was the amount of decay that the cable enabled.  It not only made cymbals shine, but the decay added an additional sense of realism and image placement especially when the enhanced effects of reverb and echo are baked into recordings. None of my other cables even came close in this regard.  Tonality is spot on, nothing is accentuated or de-accentuated from low bass to the upper end of my hearing.  Imaging is wide and instruments are placed in very specific locations.  Dynamics are full and powerful.  It has an upfront presentation that makes the sound very engaging.  Ultimately, the Ember showed the faults in my other cables that I had never noticed and now that I know..... :duh:

The physical quality of the manufacture of the cable is impeccable.  The Viborg connectors are solid and would appear to be a good companion for rejecting RF along with the cable design.  The cable is easy to manage and will bend anyway that you want it to. 

All in all, I have nothing but praise for the Ember USB. Sadly, my time is up and I must send it on to the next person.  This cable is a steal for the price that Jason is asking for it.  In fact I want to buy one, its almost a no brainer.   The only thing that makes me pause is maybe I save my pennies for an AERO???? 
« Last Edit: 31 Aug 2021, 08:12 pm by krustykat »

Pez

Re: Hapa Ember USB Cable Review
« Reply #3 on: 1 Sep 2021, 09:17 pm »
Todd,
Thank you for taking the time to post your impressions and for breaking in the cable/gear.  :thumb:

I'm really excited about Ember as a product. Your review really nails the reasons why. Decay may not sound like something that anyone would care about. Hell, the word 'decay' has mostly negative connotations! That said, when you hear it done properly you know just how much it contributes to the realism of the presentation. When I heard Ember performing it for the first time, I was astounded that it was capable of it on the level it performs. Ember definitely is the cost/performance wrecking-ball in my digital lineup!