If there is a topic that among audiophiles triggers many arguments and gives rise to rivers of digital ink in forums and dedicated websites, it’s audio cables. The discussions reach levels that could be considered a verbal brawl when people compare each other’s thoughts on signal cables, power supply cables, digital and headphone cables.
Everybody wants to express their own belief and opinions about their listening experience through the use of this or that particular product, as though it was the last dogma in terms of sonic performance of their own audio system. In recent years, the field of high-fidelity audio cables has become increasingly important among audiophiles, though to be fair, not all that glitters is gold and the greedy rip-offs are often around the corner. By the way, we’re always talking about silver or copper wires of various sizes and purity, braided with different geometries, certainly not about esoteric objects with a mysterious and secret chemical formula. Nor of objects which, despite the amazing terms used by marketers, can revolutionize or completely change the timbre of a stereo system, even high level ones, but that in a certain way, help the audio reproduction chain to unleash its potential. As the Analogue and Digital cables have alomost reached their maximum building and sonic capacity, probably leaving very little to discover, new trends are therefore focusing on other aspects, especially as regards computer digital audio. In recent years, we have seen an increasingly widespread dissemination of audio interfaces with USB input, a protocol actually designed for other purposes, but which has lately become the most used connection by audiophiles and non-audiophiles, especially when listening to so-called liquid music. Even us, at HDPhonic in our little studio use this type of interface with great satisfaction and after several tests, we chose a USB cable through which we can connect our workstations to our reference DAC. In other words the USB PASSION cable by NEUTRAL CABLE, an Italian company based in Rome.
The USB PASSION cable, the subject of this test, is sold in two different sizes, 80 cm and 120 cm long, but you can ask the manufacturer varying lengths and different terminations. Externally the PASSION is covered with a vivid red sheath and is finished with gold-plated USB standard connectors. Both its flexibility and consistency are good as well as the size which has a larger diameter than the standard USB cables used in IT environments. According to the manufacturer, it’s Teflon-insulated and made from a special alloy which NEUTRAL CABLE has decided not to disclose. In addition, the 5-volt power supply and ground are separated from the conductors that carry the digital information. The USB PASSION finally has a wide-ranging effective shielding against interference such as EMI (electromagnetic interference) and RFI (radio frequency interference) that may disturb the transmission of the digital signal from the PC to the DAC.
The test of the cable was as usual held in our small studio. The USB PASSION was left to burn-in for at least 150 hours before any critical listening. The cable was compared with other USB cables in our possession from companies such as FURUTECH, Cardas Audio and Cabledyne. The DAC used for the test was our reference one, the Tobby DAC produced by Firestone Audio, which we matched with the iPurifier filter by iFi Audio. For the test of the NEUTRAL CABLE product we wanted to specifically use high-resolution audio tracks in order to exploit both the USB cable and the DAC to their fullest potential. When comparing the different USB cables used for the listening tests, what struck us immediately was the precision in the articulation of transients, a wider opening of the stereo image and a larger amount of sonic information by the USB PASSION compared to all the others. The PASSION has a substantially neutral tone to which a certain musicality and naturalness of the sound message is added. The low frequencies go down deep and are very well articulated. The mid and high frequencies are returned in their entirety. In some ways we might almost say that this is a rather revealing cable that doesn’t hide any possible defects of the recordings but returns the source timbre in its entirety. The other cables we tested, although being good quality products, performed slightly below the level expressed by NEUTRAL CABLE as regards yield and sonics. The PASSION, in addition to providing a very interesting performance as regards the levels of macro and micro dynamics, also creates a great synergy in the audio chain formed by Senneheiser HD 650, Audeze LCD-X and Bryston BHA-1. We think that the Neutral name is an apt one for the sonic and the design philosophy of Fabio Sorrentino who has been interviewed for the occasion and whose answers are at the end of this article.
If I were to compare our test to a soccer game I would say that the Italian national team has dominated the Americans and the Japanese clearly emerging as the final winner. Often due to the audiophile enviroment mentality and little patriotic pride, there’s the tendency to snub the products made in our country. Instead, according to us at HDPhonic, this is a mistake that should be avoided. Italian excellence has emerged once again in an area where we thought there wouldn’t be differences between sonic performance of USB cables. To the contrary, starting with the common USB cable used for example with a printer, and then moving on to products made specifically for the audio connection via USB, we found that the scalability in terms of performance is quite wide. Although the PASSION delivers power and audio data from the PC to the DAC like other USB cables, the NEUTRAL CABLE doesn’t sound, in our opinion, like any others. We don’t often find ourselves in a position where we strongly recommend a product, however, in this case we would definitely recommend this one.
Honestly I have to admit that if at first I was rather skeptical about being able to hear in a decisive manner any difference between USB cables used for audio applications, I have now changed my mind and set aside most of my doubts and my perplexities. Once again it has been demonstrated that even in Italy very good products can be built and used to give real improvements to our home stereo systems. I think that the search for a USB cable that is up to the rest of my audio chain is over because I liked this USB PASSION cable so much that in the end I bought it!
- Sound quality 
- Bang fot the buck 
- Measures 
- Build quality 
- Versatility 
- Overall rating
- 1. The sound quality is really excellent
- 2. The bang for the buck of the product compared to the price is very good
- 3. The measures show very interesting values
- 4. The build quality and aesthetics of the device are excellent
- 5. The versatility is very broad in the world of USB audio devices