JCAT Reference USB Cable
For the unfamiliar, JCAT is a sub-brand of JPLAY dedicated to hardware components. The company believes that use of their products will help JPLAY users to maximise performance of their systems. JPLAY is already well-known as software designed to optimise the PC as a digital audio transport (sadly for me, only available for PC). The explosive growth of computer audio has in turn spawned a whole industry, with aftermarket components and accessories such as USB cards, SATA cables, power filters for hard drives and fans, etc. JCAT's product line-up includes cables for USB, SATA and ethernet, a USB card, and a battery PSU. Marcin Ostapowicz of JPLAY / JCAT kindly sent me their flagship USB cable, the JCAT Reference USB Cable ("JCAT Reference" for short) for purposes of this review.
I previously reviewed the base model JCAT USB cable, and was suitable impressed (see review here).
The JCAT Reference is physically finished to high standards similar to the JCAT USB. The most obvious visual difference is the twin USB A plugs for the separate data and power wires.
According to Marcin, the JCAT Reference is a totally different design using a different conductor material that is superior. The conductors are triple shielded with silver-plated copper, while the nickel plated copper and aluminum connectors are double shielded. The conductors are both multi-stranded and small gauge multi-core wires. Insulation material is teflon. The JCAT Reference also adheres to proper USB impedance specification - 90 ohms. A length burn-in process was advised, and the cable received close to 350 hours of continuous power (including 100 hours of playback time).
The first thing that you notice about the JCAT Reference is how quiet this cable is. There is a noticeable lowering of the noise floor, and blackness during silent passages. This is all done without sucking the life out of the music, nor rolling off the top end - a very impressive start - all that extra shielding really works.
Bass quality is excellent. Besides having a tight and articulate quality, there is a noticeable increase in impact, and bloom compared to the JCAT USB.
The midrange has a fuller and sweeter quality too, with a more solid yet smoother tone. This extends to the high frequencies that have a gentler and more organic presentation, while delivering an even higher level of detail than that retrieved by the JCAT USB.
From a staging perspective, the JCAT Reference expands the sonic space of instruments and voices such that a more three-dimensional rendering is delivered, together with the sense of space around them.
I noticed that violins had a fuller and sweeter tone, while piano had more weight and authority. There was also better texture, and resolution of the decay of the instruments, and ambience of the recording venue.
The JCAT Reference happened to be evaluated at the same time as the Curious USB Cable (click here for my review). The Curious Cable has a strong sonic signature, with powerful bass, very analog like presentation, and a great sense of dimension. The JCAT Reference on the other hand, has a neutral to slightly warm tone, with excellent speed and resolution. You certainly won't go wrong with either cable, and the right choice would depend on system matching and your own preference.
In my view, the JCAT Reference is a worthwhile upgrade from the JCAT USB. I believe that most audiophiles would prefer the sweeter and more musical tone of the JCAT Reference, while enjoying the higher level of quietness, resolution and three-dimensionality.
The JCAT Reference rightfully deserves it's "Reference" label. Having listened to a number of highly rated USB cables, this cable definitely belongs to the top-tier. I've decided to purchase the review sample and this cable is definitely staying put in my system.
A big thanks goes to Marcin Ostapowicz of JPLAY / JCAT for arranging for the review sample.
JCAT - JPLAY Computer Audio Transport
Price : EUR 499 (EUR 449 for JPLAY users)
Eric also publishes his own blogspot out of Singapore entitled Eric's Hifi Blogs (http://singaporehifi.blogspot.com/)