I've been using a db Labs Essential USB cable for the last several years, having only tried a few other inexpensive cables when I first switched to a USB DAC.
I decided it was finally time to try a number of newer USB cables; mostly inexpensive ones again (one to six hundred dollars for 1-1.5m).
These were the Wireworld Starlight 7, DH Labs Mirage, Purist Audio Design USB, iFi Gemini, and the Synergistic Research Active SE with Silver & Grey Tuning Bullets - all but the Gemini (which I bought) loaned from The Cable Company. I later also purchased a P.I. Audio USB cable.
System is Mac Mini (8GB memory, 5TB external drive) > USB cable > AR-T Legato > P.A.D. Aureus Praesto Digital IC (BNC) > E.E. DAC Plus (modded) > Kaplan Cable GS Mk. 2.5 ICs > Rogue Cronus Magnum (modded & KT66s) > Kaplan Cable GS Mk. II SCs > Aural Acoustics Model B speakers. APC S15 and P.I. Audio Mini-Buss power conditioners with Pangea and (mostly) T.W.L. power cords (Digital, digital HC, 7+).
The new cables from T.C.C. brought out what I was missing, mainly some lower end weight and a bit of tonal accuracy. But they all left me unsatisfied on balance (and overall I still preferred the Essential USB). The cables containing silver had dry, if not bright, highs, which I am very allergic to. General impressions and rough order of preference were:
db Labs Essential USB ($300) - good body and warmth with decent tonal accuracy but a bit smoothed over, obscuring some tonal details and the space between images compared to the best.
Synergistic Research USB Active SE with a Mono Mini-Power Coupler & UEF (Enigma Tuning Bullets ($595):
with Grey Tuning Bullet - excellent tonal accuracy & detail but very
small scaled images - aside from this last quality this would have been the best cable in this group;
with Silver Tuning Bullet - excellent detail, realistic imaging but dry highs.
The two Tuning Bullets made the cable sound surprisingly different.
DH Labs Mirage USB ($200) - very good details,imaging and body but dry highs.
Wireworld USB Starlight 7 (~$100) - good body, bass, detail and imaging but very dry, verging on bright, highs.
iFi Gemini ($189) - very quiet, good body & bass but tight sounding, doesn’t breathe.
Purist Audio Design USB cable ($260) - just muddy: I was really surprised how poor this cable was given I've liked several other Purist cables I've heard (and own one).
So now being totally unsatisfied
, I had to find a better cable. From the design info on the PI Audio website and recommendations from Pete (of TWL) and Rollo (a PI Audio dealer), I ordered a PI USB cable from the latter.
The PI Audio USB Cable ($325) has a blacker background, more micro detail and much greater tonal accuracy than all of the above cables (except for the SR w Grey Bullets which equalled the last quality).
Images are better delineated and more three dimensional while being full bodied, giving a more realistic sense of space. Bass is extended and accurate. And the most striking and enjoyable thing is that there is a greatly increased continuity/flow to the music.
I really like it and highly recommend it.
PS: I received an Uptone Audio Regen last weekend and the P.I. Audio USB cable works perfectly with it.