The JCAT USB Cable
Price: 349 EUR (approximately $482.00); 299 EUR (approximately $413.00) for JPLAY customers.
Availability: JCAT Web site
Being an audio reviewer, I have the opportunity to evaluate many of the high end USB cables that are manufactured today. While most of these cables are very nice sounding, some of the cables really distinguish themselves sonically. The JCAT USB cable is just one of those very special USB cables that stand out from the large number of high-end USB cable offerings today.
JCAT is the hardware division of JPLAY; the excellent computer audio software that I have previously reviewed at AudioStream (see review). Marcin Ostapowicz and Josef Piri have expanded beyond the JPLAY software and now offer not only a USB cable, but a USB computer card, a LAN cable and a SATA cable. All of these are designed to elevate computer audio sonic performance.
The JCAT USB cable is manufactured by Paul Pang Audio for Marcin and Josef with some unique differences from the Paul Pang Audio line of USB cables. The JCAT USB cable is based on the Paul Pang Red cable that uses 20uM silver plating. Paul designs his cables with a multi-core conductor that he feels offers higher bandwidth than a single core conductor. The multi-core conductor is composed of a silver plated copper alloy that is more expensive to manufacture than a single core silver cable. The silver plated copper alloy conductors are Teflon coated to provide high strength, anti-oxidation, and anti-twisting. Paul feels that the multi-core conductor will have rich harmonics and detail with increased low and high end extension compared to the single core cable. The single core design favors the mid-range quality that would improve the sound of vocals.
The JCAT differs from the Paul Pang line in that it uses a high density Z strand as the central core with the outside of the inner cable having a mid-density S strand configuration. This design results in a cable that combines the best of the multi-core and single-core designs.
JCAT Summary of Features
- Standard length is 1 meter
- Silver plated copper
- Multi-core conductors
- Teflon coated
- Solid aluminum connectors that support the 90 ohm impedance USB standard
Components Used in Evaluation
I used three DACs to get a good feel for the musical qualities of the JCAT USB cable. The Wavelength Crimson / Denominator Silver DAC, the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base, and the Totaldac d1-Monobloc Server DAC were used in this evaluation with my Early 2011 MacBook Pro running OSX Mavericks and Boot Camp running Windows 8.1 Pro 64. Audirvana Plus and Pure Music were used in OSX; JRiver / JPlay in Boot Camp Windows 8.1.
I had no issues with dropouts playing hi-res files or native DSD files. The cable performed flawlessly playing DXD files of 24/352.8. The JCAT USB cable appears to support USB Audio Class 2.
Having listened to the JCAT USB cable with three different DACs, a number of consistent sonic characteristics emerged. This cable strikes an excellent balance between detail retrieval and reproduction of rich tonal midrange colors. The more I listened to the JCAT USB cable, the more I was impressed with its musicality. This cable is not warm or tonally colored. In fact, it is a very quick sounding cable with excellent low and mid bass control. The cable is never bright or hyper accentuated in the highs as some USB cables I have listened to. The JCAT was able to reproduce a large, wide soundstage with good depth. The air and bloom around the instruments in orchestral recordings were easily heard.
Vocal Recordings Love the JCAT
Listening to both female and male vocal recordings was a real treat with the JCAT USB cable. As I sat back and listened to Jane Monheit’s The Heart of the Matter 88.2/24, I was very impressed with the tube-like bloom and richness of Janes’s vocals as well as the wonderful instrumental detail from the guitar and strings.
I then decided to listen to several of my ripped Stockfisch Records SACD recordings. This German Audiophile label is well known for their recording excellence and natural tonal qualities. Eugene Rufollo’s folk style album, In a Different Light, sounded outstanding with the JCAT. Eugene Rufollo’s style reminds me of Livingston Taylor on this album. Eugene has also been on several of Livingston Taylor’s albums. The vocals were very liquid sounding with the well captured inflection and nuances of the guitar reproduced by the JCAT.
Another Stockfisch ripped SACD, Allan Taylor Leaving At Dawn exhibited the same qualities I had heard with the Eugene Ruffolo recording. The Taylor album had very deep bass that was well defined with the JCAT. Taylor’s voice floated with very good focus with a very detailed, but natural sound to the guitar.
Monty Alexander’s Calypso Blues 192/24
This very dynamic sounding recording put the JCAT to the test. The overall sound was lively with good body and solidity. The bass was very well defined and quite dynamic as were the piano and drums. The kick drum had terrific impact with the JCAT. The JCAT was able to preserve the pace and rhythm of this recording while at the same time, delivered a natural relaxed sound.
Spacious Soundstage Delivery
Jon Lord’s album Beyond the Notes, a ripped SACD, had a large soundstage, no doubt, a studio creation, but impressive all the same. John Lord, an organist and pianist formerly with Deep Purple, combines rock and classical music for a unique sound. While the piano and strings were well focused, the recording overlaid a chorus in a soundstage that sounded richly layered. The JCAT was able to reproduce detail with a harmonically rich sound that was appealing and musically satisfying.
Comparisons with other USB cables
One of my favorite USB cables is the Light Harmonic LightSpeed. The JCAT has a richer sounding midrange and more prominent bass. The LightSpeed has more detail at the high end and has a bit more midrange presence than the JCAT. The LightSpeed has the largest soundstage of any USB cable I have heard.
Another USB cable I like is the Audioquest Diamond. The JCAT is a warmer sounding cable with a more prominent low end. The JCAT has a slightly larger soundstage.
The JCAT is an excellent USB cable that holds its own when compared to more expensive cables. The JCAT offers a richer, fuller sound, particularly in the midrange, compared to other high-end USB cables. Some will find this cable to be one of the most musical sounding USB cables offered today. I know that I did.