4 digital cables, from affordable to highend, with very different sonic characters
What are the sonic differences?
This was done in the reference setup. The digital components were an Audiomeca Mephisto II CD transport, CEC TL1x CD transport and DCS Purcell and Delius upsampler and dac. Two of the four cables were affordable broadcast standard cables off reel and the two others were highend cables. The price difference is big with the cheapest cables at a couple of euro's per meter to some 400 euro's for the high end cables. Are the dearer cables worth the extra outlay? Read on!
Cables under review
Transparent Premium Digital
Wireworld Gold Starlight 3+
This is an AES/EBU cable and as such it shouldn't really be compared with spdif cables but I wanted to include it anyway. Read this article for more background info on AES/EBU versus S/PDIF. Technically speaking, the Mogami is an excellent cable. Also, out of all AES/EBU cables I tested, amongst which are some belden types as well as Tasker and DAP, the Mogami was the most neutral and also the most lively cable, without sounding harsh. But because it is an AES cable, I didn't quite like it as much as I did the other spdif cables. Somehow, AES cables always sound more shallow and constrained in soundstage size as well as thinner in the bass. I find that the format kind of holds back some energy and natural flow. So, if you must have AES/EBU cables, use the Mogami but if there are other connection-options, and you don't need extreme cable lengths, go for a good spdif cable instead.
This is a 75 ohm coaxial video cable that is very well suited for digital audio based on its strict specifications. In fact, for audio, it is overspecified. Musically, it strikes a perfect neutral balance between detail and musicality. It is not a cable that makes bas cd's sound better, but it is also not a cable that adds aggression or glare. of all RG59 types I tested, the Belden is most fluid sounding as well as most airy in the treble. There are RG59 cables that have tighter bass but they are invariably more dry, brittle in the treble and just less musical. Indeed, the RG59 specification should mean that you can buy any brand of cable and they should sound the same but they don't. Maybe they measure the same but the resulting sound varies quite a bit.
Compared to the Mogami, the Belden is richer and much more dynamic. It lets the music flow more naturally and is more colourfulas well as more potent in the bass. Despite its enthusiasm, Belden RG59 is not aggressive. Detailing and transparency are only a slight notch below the Mogami but these are sacrifices that I'd easily make considering the much more engaging delivery.
Transparent Premium Digital interlink
Dit is een kabel uit het middensegment van Transparent die qua klank veel gemeen heeft met de analoge Transparent kabels. Ook de digitale kabel is vloeiend, subtiel en geraffineerd. Hij mist echter wel attack, strakheid en dynamiek vergeleken met Belden RG59. Maar een combinatie met een analtischere cd speler zoals een Sony XA50ES kan juist erg goed werken. De Transparent haalt dan net even de scherpe randjes weg en zorgt voor de juiste balans.
Speaking in Transparent's terms, this is only their middle-class cable, but it is already very good and a clear cut above the Belden RG59. This digital cable has a similar sonic signature as the analogue interlinks: Always fluid and unforced, yet subtle and refined. The refinement does come at a price in this case though. It can sound dynamically more compressed and less tight in the bass compared to Belden RG59. But the latter doesn't have the Transparent's fluidity. This cable is a very good match for harsh sounding digital components though. For example the Sony XA50ES gains a lot of musicality by using the Transparent Premium Digital Interlink. I really liked the cable but longed for better. Which is where the Wireworld comes in.
Wireworld Gold Starlight III+
This cable is quite a bit more expensive than the Transparent Premium interlink. But it looks the part, and sounds amazing, too! The beauty of this cable is that it combines the fluidity, refinement and rich tonal colour of the Transparent with almost all of the Belden RG59's virtues. In addition, this cable has the largest, most enveloping soundstage I ever heard from a digital cable. Its treble is both fluid and detailed and super-refined in an almost analogue0kind of way. When comparing the Wireworld with Belden RG59, again there is a slightly less lively delivery. It has less attack but it is much better than the Transparent's delivery. Now there is pace and rhythm aplenty. It is just that the Belden does that part better. But then you'll miss the Wireworld's infinitely more musical and much more engaging delivery.