Italian hand-made things are beautiful - artistic, and made with passion and flair. You may not necessarily agree with their aesthetics, but they invariably make a statement !
Neutral Cable are a Rome based company that makes their cables by hand. The cable on test here is the USB Reference I (Improved) and is their flagship USB cable. The conductors used for data are made of teflon insulated 7N purity solid core silver wires. Meanwhile, the power supply conductors are shielded and spaced from the data cables to avoid interference.
The new improved version promises better separation between instruments, better dynamics and articulation of low frequencies compared to the USB Reference.
My review sample came in a nice velvet case. The 1.2m cable was sheathed in a nice bright yellow jacket and was neatly and well-made with a single USB head (Neutral Cable's website mentions that a double-head type cable can be made upon request).
The USB Reference I is Neutral Cable's flagship USB cable and is priced at EUR 500/600 for 0.8 / 1.2 m lengths. That puts it comfortably in the territory of other highly regarded cables like the Wireworld Platinum Starlight, or the JCAT Reference USB.
According to conventional audiophile wisdom, silver cables have a fast, bright and detailed tone. My own experience with silver suggests otherwise, with pure silver cables sounding detailed, very smooth and full. Some people say that silver cables have very weak low frequencies. I personally think this is a result of using very thin silver conductors to keep costs low.
In any event, the Reference I is a highly detailed, full sounding and very musical sounding cable. It is quite smooth too, with a fluidity that is totally free from grain. How about that, from a silver cable ?
Tonally, the Reference I avoids the precision razor sharp sound of some cables that emphasise the leading edge of notes, but usually end up sounding fatiguing in the long run. Instead, the Reference I has a full bodied sound, with fleshed-out images. More importantly, it does this without sounding dark, smoothing over details, or rolling-off the top-end of the frequency spectrum. Some users may find that the transients are slightly soft-sounding and lacking in snap though - it depends on your musical diet and preferences.
Low frequencies have a nice bloom and wetness to it, with some fullness in the midbass. Compared to my Wireworld Platinum Starlight (Series 6), it lacks some punch in the lowest registers.
Both the midrange and high frequencies of the Reference I are balanced, with a highly detailed and controlled sound. There is a sweet and effortless presentation that makes vocals very easy to listen to. The Wireworld in comparison sounded aggressive and a bit bright.
Imaging is well-sorted out, although image sizes are slightly larger than usual, with a subtle forward projection of the soundstage.
The character of the Reference I was consistent - I tried it in two different setups and my listening notes for both were generally similar.
It is really easy to like the Reference I - it's relaxed, sweet and very natural sounding. It has a wholesome sound that is highly detailed yet effortless. It's certainly not a cheap cable, but I consider the asking price to be well justified by it's performance - Recommended.
USB Reference I - EUR 500 (0.8m) / EUR 600 (1.2m)