by Kevin O'Brien on 05/19/2012

***UPDATED 05/18/2013***

We wanted to update this article as a lot of things have happened since we first posted it. Some basic principles have now been laid out as we've had more time to test our theories and see how USB devices behave under certain circumstances. We're pretty sure there are a lot of facts floating around out there that just aren't true. What's a data-only USB cable? When do they come in handy and can I use them with my equipment? Do they make a difference in terms of sound quality?

First off, what is a "data-only USB cable"? A data-only USB cable is a cable that only contains the + and the - data leads. It does not contain the +5V power lead. lt SHOULD contain the ground lead. This type of USB cable is what is known as "Data-Only". You CANNOT just assume since your USB device is plugged into a power source that you do not need the power lead on your USB cable! That is just plain wrong.

All this depends upon which USB input receiver your DAC is implementing. A lot of USB DAC's are going with the XMOS USB input solution. Just as many are opting to use M2Tech's OEM USB input solution. Other manufacturers are choosing to use the Tenor USB input chips. An extreme minority are using the Via USB input chip. And lastly, the C-Media USB input board is also just hitting the audiophile USB scene. Another very cool thing we are starting to see is designers creating their very own custom USB input boards! In this case, you'll need to talk to the designer to find out if he or she is using USB power.

If you are planning on using a data-only USB cable, your USB input device may contain the M2Tech USB input board or possibly the Via board. If it contains any other USB input method mentioned above, it will most likely run on the 5V USB power bus. The few main exceptions to that rule are the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 DAC and the Auralic Vega DSD DAC. These units employ the XMOS USB input chip. The XMOS chips in these instances get their power from the power supplies inside the DAC's instead of from your computer's USB bus. Also if you own an Audio-GD DAC, which implements the Via USB solution, it's best to contact King Wa directly to see if your DAC uses power from your computer's USB bus or not. Every other DAC (that we know of) that employs the XMOS, Tenor, and C-Media chips gets its power from the computer's USB bus. Use this rule to figure out if your DAC could benefit from a specialized USB data-only cable design.

We offer our current 'Reference' YFS USB 2.0 interconnects in a 'Data-Only' option, a 'Standard' option as well as a 'Dual-Headed' or 'Split' option. The 'Data-Only' USB cable is just like the name sounds. This is your typical USB cable design with the +5V power lead removed. The ground lead is intact. The 'Standard' option is the conventional USB design with all 4 conductors intact. The YFS 'Dual-Headed' or YFS 'Split' Ref USB cable along with our YFS PS-5 power supply are specifically designed for DAC's using the XMOS, Tenor, and C-Media USB input chips. This design isolates the data leads from the power leads until the two meet at the DAC's input. It doesn't seem at first glance that this split cable design should elevate performance. We didn't believe it either so we tried it and sure enough there was an audible difference between the conventional USB design and the 'Split' design. Isolating the data and power leads appears to limit interference between the two which results in deeper, wider, more accurate soundstage and more separation between instruments and overall better presentation of the music.

We have compiled a list of known DAC's that will benefit from the 'Split' USB cable design. This list is not complete and we'd appreciate it if our readers could help us complete it as time moves forward.

 

USB Bus Powered DAC's/ SPDIF Converters:
 

SPDIF Converters

Anedio U2 SPDIF Converter
April Music Stello U2 24/96 USB Link
April Music Stello U3 24/192 USB Link
Audiophilleo 1 & 2
Bel Canto USB Link
Bel Canto mLink
Bel Canto uLink (NOT Bel Canto REFLink)
Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha USB
Bravo USB to S/PDIF Converter
Channel Islands Audio Transient MKII USB Converter (without 5V PS)
Firestone Audio SPDIF converter
Lindemann DDC
M2Tech HiFace TWO
Musical Fidelity V-link I / II / 192
Resonessence Labs Concero
Sonicweld Diverter HR
SOtM dx-USB HD
Soulution 590 USB converter
Stahl-Tek A.B.C.
Wavelength Audio Wavelink HS


DAC's

Abbingdon Music Research Digital Processor 777
Aesthetix Romulus Transport/ DAC
Aesthetix Pandora DAC
Anedio D2 DAC
Apogee Mini-DAC & Duet 2
April Music Eximus DP1
Atoll DAC 100
Audionet ART G3
Audio Research DAC 7
Avid Pro Tools 9 & 10 Mbox Mini
Bel Canto DAC 1.5
Bel Canto DAC 2.5 (NOT Bel Canto DAC 3.5 - NO USB Input)
Benchmark DAC1 USB (Original Version - Latest DAC1 is NOT compatible)
Benchmark DAC2 HGC USB
Beresford USB DAC TC-7520
Bricasti Designs M1 USB DAC
Bryston BDA-1
Bryston BDA-2
Burson Audio DA-160
Burson Audio Conductor
Cakewalk UA-25EX CW USB Audio Interface
Calyx Femto DAC
Calyx DAC 24/192
Cambridge Audio DAC Magic
Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus
CEC DA53
Centrance USB Devices
Chord QBD76 (NOT Chord Cute HD)
dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC
dCS USB Capable DAC's (All Models)
Devilsound DAC
Digidesign MBox 2 mini
Edirol UA1A USB Powered Audio Interface
E-MU 0204 & 0404
EMM Labs DAC2X
ESI Dr. DAC nano
Firestone Audio Fubar II & III
Focusrite Saffire 6 USB & Scarlett 2I2
Hegel Hd2
HOTaudio Extasy USB DAC
HRT Music Streamer (All USB Bus Powered Models)
IBUKI Musica DAC's & Amps
Jolida Glass FX DAC I / II / III
Jolida Fusion DAC / Transport
Kingrex USB DAC's & USB Amps
Korg DS-DAC-10
Lindemann DAC 24-192
Lindemann 825 HD Disc Player
Marantz NA7004 Network Audio Player/DAC
Matrix Audio X-Sabre DAC
Maverick Audio - DAC TubeMagic D1 & D2
M-Audio Fast Track USB & Fast Track C400 & C600
Meitner Audio MA-1 DAC
Meridian Audio Explorer [Headphone Amp/USB DAC] (XMOS)
Metrum Acoustics Octave MkII (NOT MkI or HEX)
Musical Fidelity V-DAC (NOT the V-DAC II)
Musical Fidelity M1 DAC
NAD M51 USB DAC
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 & Traktor Audio 10
Northstar USB DAC 32 Essensio (NOT Northstar 24/192)
NuForce Icon 1 & 2 HD HDP uDAC-2/ uDAC2-HP
Peachtree Audio novaPre
Peachtree Audio Grand Pre X-1
Perreaux Audiant DP32/ Audiant 80i
Presonus Audiobox 22VSL & Audiobox USB
Primare DAC30
Pro-ject USB Box
Propellerhead Balance
PS Audio Digital Link III
PS Audio PerfectWave DAC
PS Audio NuWave DAC
Rasteme Rudd14 USB DAC
REGA DAC
Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center
Resonessence Labs Invicta (Custom USB Input - No Drivers)
RME Babyface
Schiit Audio DAC's (All Models)
Silverstone USB DAC
SimAudio Moon 100D
SimAudio Moon 300D
Sound Devices USB Pre 2
Stahl-Tek Ariaa DAC
Tascam US 122L / 122 MKII / 144L / 144 MKII (All USB Bus Powered Models)
Teac UD-H01 DAC
Totaldac D1 Reference
Trends Audio DAC
Triode Corporation TRV DAC 1.0
Wadia 121 Decoding Computer
Wadia 151 PowerDAC Mini
Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies
Wavelength Audio (All Models)
Yellowtec PUC2


Please add to the list if possible. If you have indeed tried a DAC and you're certain it uses USB power and it's not on the above list, contact us and we'll add it...

We hope we have shed a little more light on the 'data-only' USB cable and if we answered at least one of your questions we have accomplished what we set out to do here. THANKS for reading!!!

 -YFS Design Team

 

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