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I’m a convert after years of digital cable improvement denial

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by HelpfulDad, Feb 17, 2021.

  1. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    For years I found it hard to believe that cables carrying digital information could make a damned bit of difference. I didn’t argue the point too strongly, because I didn’t have the money to audition a very expensive HDMI or USB cable. Bits are bits and if the bits got transferred then there was no way it could be improved. Particularly in the case for USB, because with external hard drives, an exe app file with a single bit error would like render the program unusable and this doesn’t happen.

    For content copying with error correction enabled, content integrity is preserved. It may take longer if there are a ton of errors with a sh!tty cable. But, with all other hardware/software being identical, playing the copied content will produce identical result.

    But, streaming PCM or video, is an entirely different case. In my experience, significantly upgrading an HDMI cable will profoundly improve audio and video quality of streaming content. JITTER MATTERS.

    I know that video is off-topic but, it’s streaming 4k video from a Roku to a decent 4k TV where you will see irrefutable evidence that cable quality affects digital playback quality. I was not happy with the picture quality from my Samsung 4k TV( not a top end TV) when streaming from my Roku, even though the Roku was advertised as being able to stream extremely high quality (HDR10, Dolbyvision) content. And, streaming the same content from a TV resident app produced a better picture.

    I was fortunate enough to find a very expensive Audioquest 1m Chocolate HDMI cable for a price I could afford, so I bought it and HOLY CRAP what a huge difference. The sharpness, color, depth of all content is exceptional. It’s such a profound difference, that I would say that if you’re unsatisfied with your current hi-res picture quality when using a streaming device (AppleTV, Roku) or disc spinner, connected with an HDMI cable to your TV, spend a few hundred on a new cable before you spend several hundred or thousands on a new TV.

    Getting back on topic. I play all of my non-MQA, 2.0,4.0,5.1 digital audio content with Foobar2000 from a Dell Laptop->HDMI cable->Elite VSX23-TXH. It always sounded ok, but really wasn’t in the same league as playing that same content on an Oppo BDP95 using analog 5.1 connections to the EliteVSX23-TXH.

    After the stunning video results, I put an Audioquest Forest cable in between my Dell and Elite. There was a minor improvement, but it was subtle. But then I put my new Chocolate cable in and WOW!!! I can’t A/B this setup with the Oppo, which I had to sell, but the sound quality improvement is as profound as the video improvement I saw with the same cable. The Elite highs always sounded harsh, bass soft and unfocused, and no real soundstage. I’d describe the sound as almost “drawn”. But with the Chocolate cable, cymbals were discernible, soundstage has depth and height, voices and acoustic instruments are virtually indistinguishable from people and instrument in my living room, bass is appropriately subterranean or locatable in the soundstage. Kudos to Pioneer on this DAC package.

    If you can afford it, put one of these Audioquest Chocolate or better HDMI cables in your audio and/or video streaming path for a real treat. I want to clarify that the audio cable is not using eARC channel to stream, rather the “main” HDMI channel.

    Next, I bought one of these Audioquest “Carbon” cables, 2m long,for video, which is the next level up in their HDMI cable product line and twice as long as my 1m Chocolate. Sadly, my apartment mailbox was vandalized and it was stolen, so I can’t say if video and audio get even better than their Chocolate level, or if the there’s length degradation or?? If I can save my pennies to buy another $313 cable, I will and I’ll add the results to this post.

    But, in summary, I stand corrected and HDMI cables may matter even more than new playback disc spinners
  2. Turnaround

    Turnaround Member your mama warned you about

    New York
    Do you think the improvements you see are because of the better quality of cable, or because your old cables were not up to the specs required for 4K and current tech? Or both?

    In this forum thread, I realized that some of my HDMI cables, which I've had for well over 10 years, were set for HDMI 1.4 specs and not current HDMI 2.0 specs. However, I am still not entirely clear whether I need to "upgrade" those old cables to transmit the full information for 4K video today.
    bresna, Bingo Bongo, pdenny and 2 others like this.
  3. Big T

    Big T Well-Known Member

    Say Hey HelpfulDad,

    I'm with you. How can a digital cable make any a difference? That makes no sense! Unfortunately for us, it does make a significant difference. Just another jungle of optimization possibilities to explore. Hope you can enjoy the journey.

    Also, so sorry to hear you were robbed of your upgrade cables. That kind of thing makes me angry and I shake my head. In the California gold rush of 1849 they didn't have courts, but people could walk around with a "modern equivalent" of a million dollars in sacks of gold and leave them outside at night. No worries. No one would dare touch 'em.

    The justice system there was a bit more abreviated and harsh than today's judicial system and discouraged thievery, you could say.

    Rock ON HelpfulDad.

    Big T
  4. MattHooper

    MattHooper Forum Resident

    If you paid anything more than you would for a decent HDMI cable at Best Buy, I'm not sure "fortunate" is the right word ;-)

    Very bad advice. It's advising people to spend unnecessary money.

    It's simply not true. I know, I know, you've seen it with your own eyes.

    But, yes, your eyes can lie.

    Back in the 90's when Home Theater was becoming huge there were numerous video mags that branched out from the subjective-review hi-fi mags. They would "review" analog video cables - S-Video, Component - as they would audio cables. More expensive cables sure enough were claimed to produce just the type of differences you mentioned - "sharper, clearer, more dimensional, richer in color"...all the goodies a videophile could want!

    I ended up with some high end video cables (Nordost among them) and, though I was skeptical it really seemed like I was seeing a visual difference when I'd put in the well-reviewed, expensive cables.

    But knowing something about bias effects, I got myself a range of cables, from Best-Buy level, to more expensive, to pro level, to Nordost component cables. I manged a way to do blind tests between them.
    Once I, or anyone else, didn't know which cable was which, suddenly those "obvious" visual differences weren't so obvious and in fact all guesses were random indicating no actual difference.

    It's always amazing to come right up against something that undermines a strong subjective experience, but if you are open to evidence against your beliefs and subjective inferences, it's enlightening.

    Anyway, the signs that there was no "there" there in the video cable realm should have been obvious even back then during the analog days. It should have been suspicious that the very reviewers raving about changes in color, contrast, sharpness etc, who also often had some calibration gear and experience, NEVER mentioned or produced any evidence of measurable changes made by a cable, when calibrating displays!

    When HDMI cables overtook analog component cables, a lot of the wind left the sales of the high end video cable market and we heard a lot less about differing video quality between cables...for good reason. But of course it didn't entirely go away. The bias effects exist independent of any actual objective changes. No matter what new technology is introduced, no matter how perfect accurate or transparent, many people will still be able to imagine they are hearing or seeing differences. That's just how we work. Hence you can still occasionally find reviews of high end HDMI cables making for an "obviously better image."

    But note again: The same red flag is waving in our face, for why these claims are so dubious. NONE of the companies making these expensive HDMI cables actually produce any evidence of measured differences in display images using their cables. There are tons of people out there calibrating displays, pros and enthusiasts, with high end equipment which can measure ANY visual change in a signal. If the color, gamma, contrast, black levels, white levels, white balance etc changes AT ALL it will be picked up (and have to be calibrated for) by the spectroradiometers used for video calibration. Any actual changes in image resolution or sharpness will be shown in resolution patterns. It's a purely objective matter of fact.

    And with all these people calibrating displays year after year NO ONE is saying "I had to calibrate differently when I changed to a different HDMI cable" or has shown ANY OBJECTIVE evidence of a high end HDMI cable altering the signal in the terms you have described.


    Because it just doesn't work that way. It's like someone claiming that putting on sunglasses allows them to see through walls. Until they can actually demonstrate in a controlled way they can see something through a wall, the obvious take is that it's their imagination because we know sunglasses aren't X-ray devices. Same with seeing things with HDMI cables. (Aside from drop outs and the like).

    If you believe your display now looks better, enjoy. But since you wished to move from that subjective experience to recommending others spend extra money to do so, it was worth some push-back.

    Last edited: Feb 17, 2021
    Kyhl, classicrocker, wrat and 33 others like this.
  5. smith6552

    smith6552 Forum Resident

    Highland Park, IL
    Welcome to the dark side. I myself discovered the difference digital cables (or any for that matter) can make.
    Art K, Lowrider75 and jusbe like this.
  6. Simoon

    Simoon Forum Resident

    Los Angeles

    What one has to remember, is that there is NO digital information being transmitted on USB cables. There are no bits, no 1's and 0's on the cables.

    There are only falling and rising voltages, that are detected, then converted to 1's and 0's.

    RF, EMI, jitter, etc can effect them no differently than any other analog signal.
    Bingo Bongo, jfeldt and Kray like this.
  7. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
  8. Gizmo90

    Gizmo90 Forum Resident

  9. Razakoz

    Razakoz Forum Resident

    Isn't there a buffering system though, and if a packet is corrupted the system will request that packet be resent? If digital cables mattered then we'd all be screwed anyway because the cables that carry the internet to our house aren't audiophile quality.
    JosepZ, Gibsonian, vwestlife and 2 others like this.
  10. Arclight73

    Arclight73 Forum Resident

    This right here sums it all up. But most people REFUSE to accept this. They swear up and down they can hear a difference but they can't when put to the test.
    classicrocker, BruceS, JosepZ and 8 others like this.
  11. Wattie66

    Wattie66 Active Member

    Yes, of course that is the case. "There are only falling and rising voltages, that are detected, then converted to 1's and 0's." is true in it explains part of the physics of how the 1s and 0s are passed from sending device to receiving device. However, they are still just 1s and 0s, and nothing else added or taken away, and those 1s and 0s have to arrive at the receiving device in exactly the same order as they left the sending device - with absolutely no deviation or nuance allowed. This is what error checking achieves, and if the order of the 1s and 0s is incorrect the transfer will fail (usually after a number of system defined retries). The cable CANNOT have any effect on the nature of the 1s and 0s, all it can do is successfully carry them from A to B.
    JosepZ, james and Razakoz like this.
  12. rockin_since_58

    rockin_since_58 Forum Resident

    Simi Valley, CA
    I recently upgraded my digital cable and interconnects to Audio Envy and was amazed at the difference. I had been in the "Cables Don't Make A Difference" camp since the beginning of my audio journey but now I have heard the difference and it is real.
  13. Brad2021hk

    Brad2021hk Well-Known Member

    Sacramento, CA
    There is buffering, which is why all this talk about jitter on the cable is completely silly. In fact, the actual data format on the wire includes header and CRC data, so the DAC decode clock cannot be derived from the bit rate on the wire.

    HDMI and SPDIF do not have retry. USB can depending on the traffic class. The question is really bit error rate. If the bit error rate is approximately zero, then the signal quality is good enough. If the HDMI cable made a difference in picture quality, it is probably a difference between a below-spec cable and an in-spec cable. A lot of super cheap or free cables are below-spec. If you pulled some random HDMI cable out of a drawer to hook up a 4k HDR TV, it is probably built to an older spec. There are better ways to get an in-spec HDMI cable than to buy a boutique audiophile cable.

    USB can be a special case for audio quality because it may also be the power supply cable for the DAC.
    Kyhl likes this.
  14. fish

    fish Forum Resident

    So that's it then.

    Man, do I feel like a complete and total Idiot.

    Thanks again.
    hi_watt, Oelewapper, macster and 3 others like this.
  15. jusbe

    jusbe Modern Melomaniac

    Auckland, NZ.
    HelpfulDad, glad you found what you like.

    I, too, have noticed... oh no! Did I say that out loud? ...

    hi_watt, Tullman and head_unit like this.
  16. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    ROTFL!!! . My sentiments exactly. What I probably should ask is how he was able to teleport to my home and see my screen and hear my audio before and after I made the changes.
  17. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    I really couldn’t answer that. But I hope the takeaway from my post is that after years of strong skepticism, changing HDMI cables matters
    head_unit and K Knight like this.
  18. SonicCzar

    SonicCzar Well-Known Member

    New England
    As the person that broke into the OP's mailbox, I can attest that the Carbon cable rocks, and you can't beat the price/performance ratio.......
    bever70 and HelpfulDad like this.
  19. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    I’m not going to dive into an electrical engineering discussion I’m ill-equipped to supply deep technical information. But, the cable changes made a huge, not subtle difference.

    But, I do have signal processing/mathematics expertise and once I saw the huge difference, I analyzed it for possible explanations. Regardless of any buffering and, as someone said there’s not robust, bit level error correction in HDMI. And, someone else said there’s not literally digital 1s and 0s being transmitted, rather an electrical representation that is sent over the wire. One, reasonable and possible explanation is that the minute variation in electrical signal caused by jitter or perhaps the effects of electrical characteristics of the conductors, could manifest as incorrect determination of whether a particular bit is a 1 or 0, hence, introducing error into the bitstream.

    Not the point of my post anyway. The point is that the improvement from using the $100 Audioquest 1m Chocolate cable was definitely worth the the $100+. I wish the $300 2m Carbon cable wasn’t stolen because I’d be curious to see what the difference would be. My guess is that it won’t be as big an improvement as the Chocolate was from every other one I own, including a Forest, but maybe I won’t lose anything from length.
    hi_watt likes this.
  20. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    Would you mail me my smartphone screen protector?
    hi_watt, Kristofa and bever70 like this.
  21. HelpfulDad

    HelpfulDad Forum Resident Thread Starter

    El Cajon, Ca.
    Well then. Just how were you able to see my screen when I saw the difference? Oops. I forgot. I’m a ***** who can’t discern between what I want and what I see. Tell you what. I’ll check with you every time I buy anything since I’m not able to think. I’m probably wasting my time making my own teriyaki chicken too. I can buy it in the frozen food section.

    This is the sort of thing that turns people off hi-end audio. Someone expresses their observations and someone like this, who is unable to sense the nuances of sound and picture comes along and makes them feel stupid.

    You’re myopic view that everyone shares your inability to see or hear differences in audio or video is your own shortcoming.
  22. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    La la la...la
  23. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    Yes, did you know he is an "expert" particularly when it comes to cables he hasn't tried!
  24. luckybaer

    luckybaer Thinks The Devil actually beat Johnny

    It would be nice if you could answer the question. What if the majority of the improvement was due to your cables now being able to support 4k video, etc. and NOT due to cables using more expensive copper, beefier connectors, and exotic insulation?
    Billy Infinity, BruceS, bdfin and 3 others like this.
  25. SonicCzar

    SonicCzar Well-Known Member

    New England
    Sorry, I stuck it on the cover of your Victoria's Secret Valentine's Day catalogue........The cable was a bonus find...

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