As a recovering audiophile myself, I was heartened to see the spirit alive at Amazon. I’m getting a 6′ optical digital cable to connect a desktop PC with an outboard digital audio converter. This is mostly because the speakers are making some funny noises and I’m too lazy to debug whether the extraneous sounds are coming from the sound card or the old M-Audio powered speakers.
Note that the function of this cable is to transmit 1s and 0s, with an error correcting code (essentially some redundant data) included so that the digital data can be completely recovered by the receiver even if there are some errors in transmission. Asking “is the sound different?” is equivalent to asking if you would get a different version of nytimes.com in a Web browser by connecting via wireless or a CAT5 cable. Yet there are 541 reviews and we learn from one review “Sound quality: The quality of the sound was on par with some of the more expensive cables I’ve had previously. I didn’t notice any interference and it sounded fairly clear.” and that “If you bought this $450 cable [competitive product], I cry for you.” Numerous other reviews refer to the sound quality of the cable.
Speaking of sound quality… what do people like for desktop digital audio converters? I don’t need a headphone amplifier (and probably wouldn’t want one powered by USB if I did), but Audioengine D1 looks pretty good.