Belden, Mogami, Wireworld and Transparent Digital Audio Cables Compared
Four digital cables from affordable to high end, with four very different sonic characters
The digital components used for this review are an Audiomeca Mephisto II CD transport, CEC TL1x CD transport and DCS Purcell and Delius upsampler and dac. Two of the four cables are affordable off-reel broadcast standard cables off reel and the two others are highend versions. The price difference is big, with the cheapest cables coming in at a couple of euros per meter to more than 400 euro for the high end cables. Are the dearer cables worth the extra outlay? Read on!
Cables under review:
Mogami 3080 Neglex AES/EBU
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 to help set the stage. 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 somehow, AES cables always sound a little over-controlled in my setup. Almost always I find that the format kind of holds back some energy and natural flow. So, if it must be AES/EBU, use the Mogami as it is really excellent but if there are other connection-options, and you don’t need extreme cable lengths, SPDIF may be a better option.
The RG59 is a 75 ohm industry standard coaxial video cable that is also very well suited for digital audio based on its strict specifications. Musically, it strikes a perfect neutral balance between detail and musicality. It is not a cable that makes bad CD’s sound better by softening the sound, but it is also not a cable that adds hash, aggression or glare. Although the RG59 spec dictates many aspects of the cable and so it could be assumed that they all sound the same, but this is really not the case. Of all RG59 types I tested, the Belden is most fluid sounding and most airy in the treble. There are RG59 cables that have tighter bass but they are also more critical in the treble, less forgiving and arguably less musical.
Compared to the Mogami, the Belden sounds fuller and more dynamic. It lets the music flow more naturally and is more colourful as 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 happily make considering its more engaging delivery.
Transparent Premium Digital interlink
The Transparent Premium is the brand’s mid-price offer, and soundwise it has a lot in common with the Transparent analog cables. The Premium Digital Interlink sounds fluid, smooth and refined and very forgiving of lesser recordings but it does fall slightly short on attack, tightness and dynamic behaviour, when compared to the Belden RG59. With cleaner sounding components it can however be the perfect match. The Sony XA50ES for example sounded much more expensive than it is, driving a Wadia 25 DAC using this cable.
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 many 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 analogue kind of way. When comparing the Wireworld with Belden RG59, again there is a slightly less lively delivery. It has slightly softened transients but it is much better than the Transparent. Importantly, pace and rhythm are largely intact. It is just that the Belden does that part better. But then you’ll miss the Wireworld’s super-musical and emotionally more engaging delivery.
Update September 2020
Now that my system has changed multiple times and my listening preferences have evolved I should add that I now feel that the Mogami cable is actually very good. Rather than over-controlled, I now feel that it is merely transparent and accurate and in no way inhibits the musical flow. Nevertheless, comparatively, the Belden RD59 cable still sounds fuller and more sonorous but also less articulate and precise. The best AES/EBU cable that I have heard so far is the, alas quite expensive, Jorma AES/EBU Digital Cable.