It shouldn’t surprise any computer audiophile that a USB cable between a music server and a USB DAC can improve the sound quality of his system. What about a SATA cable between a solid-state drive and a motherboard – can it affect the audio performance?
Music files, operating system, software audio player; all these essential bits of a computer audio system are stored on a drive. It can be a solid-state drive (SSD) or a traditional spinning drive (HDD). The drive (or multiple drives) is installed inside a PC enclosure and connected to a motherboard with a short Serial ATA (SATA) cable. Through this SATA cable, all data are transferred, also audio-related. An SSD/HDD is the true source of digital audio in a file-based system, sth that most people don’t realize. They should because even if the music bytes are loaded into a memory buffer and played from there, they first have to travel via a SATA cable. And the connection matters.
attenuation and jitter
SATA operates at 3 Gigabit/s or 6 Gigabit/s. At these high speeds, signal integrity becomes a significant concern. In contrast: USB high-speed connection, required for USB Audio Class 2 (UAC2) and hi-rez USB DACs, operates at 480 Mbit/s. Higher frequencies have increased sensitivity to attenuation and jitter: attenuate faster than low frequencies over distance and are more susceptible to jitter. If attenuation and jitter become too high, it becomes impossible to accurately sample and decode signals.
In order to maintain high signal integrity and low-jitter, a high-quality shielded SATA Cable must be used. The cables that come in a box together with a motherboard are good enough to keep the system stable. But they are by no means optimized for digital audio playback. Any signal retransmission causes timing imperfections which ultimately deteriorate sound quality of a music server, even at this early stage. SATA standard comes with an error correction mechanism, but in digital audio error prevention is always better than error correction.
audiophile sata cable
Audio grade SATA cable used with an operating system drive or a music library drive improves the sound quality dramatically. It doesn’t matter if you have the latest SSD or an old HDD, the effect is always the same: much higher class playback that can be compared to using a high-end USB Cable with a DAC vs. a generic one – more details, darker background, more clarity & musicality. It should be an essential component of any audio PC. When I look at the internals of so-called ‘state of the art’ audiophile music servers, I’m literally shocked to see that this area hasn’t been identified by the industry yet. Below you can see generic SATA cables inside the €15k Aurender W20 music server:
SATA cables in a high-end music server build
sources: eetimes.com, theabsolutesound.com, pursuitperfectsystem.com
A recognized high-end audio consultant. Computer audio pioneer. Co-creator of the award-winning software, JPLAY. Manufacturer, curator, and distributor of high-quality audio products. Constantly strives for perfection of sound. Foundations for his breakthroughs finds in areas that others ignore.