AES/EBU cable shootout

As I had promised (please refer to Grimm Mu1 thread and Fee for Audition thread under Digital for more context), I am going to share my experiences using different AES/EBU cables in my system. I am going to gloss over the general question of whether cables, especially digital cables make a difference. I am always careful in choosing my components, and unless something makes a tangible improvement in sound, I will never pay for something. If something makes an improvement, I do evaluate if it’s worth the asking price, and only then do I purchase it. So it’s up to you to decide if something is worth the price that you pay for. Also, please note that, these findings apply to my system in my room and may not translate into the same findings in your system. 

Now let’s go into what I heard in my system. I had the following AES/EBU cables. The Mogami cable, Shunyata Omega cable, Nordost Odin 2 cable and  the Sablon cable. Unfortunately I was unable to obtain the Jorma design cable as I was unable to reach the cable company either through phone or email. I am not aware of any other dealer who carries it near me.

There is a significant difference between the basic Mogami and the rest of the cables. The difference is easy to discern in the bass. There  is simply more texture, dimensionality, and clarity that is missing in bass with the Mogami cable. This is unfortunate as this is the cheapest cable. The rest of the cables are closer to each other. It takes a bit of back-and-forth of listening to discern the differences.

First up was the Shunyata cable. This is an excellent digital cable which is extremely natural sounding. Everything sounds clear with a nice sound stage. The sound stage extends beyond the speakers with a nice depth to it. There is a sense of fullness to the sound, more fleshed out, but in a very natural way. This is the first cable that I had for evaluation (this belongs to my friend). I will be very happy with this cable, if it were my only option. This cable retails for around 4.5 k. 

Next step was the Nordost Odin 2 cable. I understand that there is a significant jump in price as this cable retails for over 12 K. The difference between the Shunyata and the Odin 2 cable is more subtle. The primary difference is in the sound stage. The sound extends well beyond the speakers and front to depth soundstage is increased compared to Shunyata. There is also more detail and air at the top end. There is slightly more dynamics with the Odin 2 cable on back-and-forth listening. Please note, these differences are not in your face but subtle. Whether this is worth the price difference is something only you can decide.

The last cable that I had was the Sablon cable. The other cables measured 1.5 m but the Sablon was 1 m. I could not test if the length of cable makes a difference as I did not have the same cable in different lengths. (Please refer to Grimm Mu1 thread for context.)

The Sablon cable brings a lot of nuance to the entire spectrum of sound. The bass is taut and has a lot of finesse. String instruments reveal a good amount of inner detail, whether it’s plucking or bowing. Percussion sounds realistic. It nicely brings out the textures and extremely accurate with regards to tone and timbre. The mid range is extremely clear and well presented, which is one of the strengths of this cable. The top end is clean and extremely accurate. It has an uncanny ability to make the softest sounds really fleshed out and clear. If are a Pink Floyd fan “Hello Colonel, how are you tonight” never sounded this clear, it’s like you are on shrooms. 

This is how I would compare the Shunyata, Nordsost and Sablon. The system plays a huge role in laying out the differences. The bass is similar in all the three cables, they go deep, feel taut and have a lot of textures. It’s the midrange and highs that sound different. Nordstrom has a very neutral and sweet presentation that is very inviting. It sizzles in the top end and has superb dynamics. The other two cables cannot touch the Nordost in the highs. The Sablon shines in the midrange. It has one of the most accurate midrange sound and sounds really organic. The nordost is close but Sablon wins the midrange. The Shunyata is close to the other cables but does not sound better. So what did I choose? The sizzling dynamic Nordost or the realistic sounding Sablon?

I always believed that the highs are most important for music to sound alive and  imparting the feeling of being there. But Sablon changed my opinion, it’s the midrange that gives the sensation of live music. The Sablon made the music sound more alive than other 2 cables.  The difference with Nordost is subtle but definite. The other important thing especially for me was tone and timbre. I play violin and I value tone and timbre (reason for the choice of my speakers) as the most important attribute.The Sablon again wins this. Of course the price is the icing on the cake. So I have decided to buy the Sablon. Of course, in your system and for your ears, the outcome may not be the same. My recommendation is to try before you buy especially considering the price of the these cables.



Your feedback is appreciated. Shindo dealers and few users I conversed with, always advocated the use of ‘grey’ stock cord with Shindo components. I kept Mr. T in my system after trying out many revered power conditioners. To my ears, isolated transformer based power distributors renders the most transparent and uncolored sound. Based on your experience, I am going to try a heavier gauge power cord on Mr. T :-) 

@lalitk lol, seems we both read that same article. (EDIT: I thought it was by Nordost but that was just an add, the article was by gcaudio.) I thought it somewhat written in laymen’s terms, not very scientific. I guess there’s no point in discussing this further from the technical angle, let’s enjoy the music!

@thyname I am not seeing@rudyb put anyone down. He simply asked a question and the only person who attempted to answer with the slightest amount of technical information was @lalitk with the link he posted. 

Last I checked this is an open forum, and @rudyb did not violate any of the forum rules. Think you should refrain. 

@jeffstrick : you should refrain from posting in threads you are not interested too. Do you have anything to offer on the topic? Let’s see: what do you think about cables? Which AES/EBU cable are you currently using, and connected to what? Thank you so much!

@jeffstrick and @rudyb Since you wanted an explanation, I will try. I do not want this thread to go away from its intended purpose so I refrained from discussing further. 

When we talk about digital to digital transmission, there are several varieties of transmission. I am just going to confine to PCM transmission. We all assume that it is the same 1s and 0s without understanding or realizing that there are multiple varieties of transmission of this signal. The most straightforward PCM format is designated as NRZ-L, for non return to zero level. In this format, the level directly represents the binary value: low level = 0, high level = 1

But there are many varieties of PCM

NRZ-M ( non return to zero mark). 1: no change in level from last pulse. 0: level changes from last pulse.

NRZ-S (non return to zero space). This is the same as NRZ-M but with the logic levels reversed. 1: level changes from last pulse. 0: no change in level from last pulse.

Bi-Phase-L (bi-phase level). The level always changes in the middle of the pulse. 1: level changes from high to low. 0: level changes from low to high.

Bi-Phase-M. (bi-phase mark). The level always changes at the beginning of each pulse. 1: level changes in the middle of the pulse. 0: no level change in the middle of the pulse.

Bi-Phase-S (bi-phase space). This is the same as Bi-Phase-L but with the logic levels reversed. 1: no level change in middle of pulse. 0: level changes in the middle of the pulse.

DBi-Phase-M (differential bi-phase mark). The level always changes in the middle of the pulse. 1: no level change at beginning of the pulse. 0: level change at beginning of the pulse.

DBi-Phase-S (differential bi-phase space). This is the same as DBi-phase-M but with the logic levels reversed. 1: level change at beginning of the pulse. 0: no level change at the beginning of the pulse. 

It is possible for an error to occur somewhere in the transmission process. One way to increase the reliability of transmitted PCM signals is to add a checksum bit to each piece of data. For example, in an eight-bit byte, seven of the bits can be used for data and the last reserved for a checksum bit. In one method, the checksum bit is determined by parity (meaning an even or odd number). In even parity checksums, a 0 or 1 is added to make the overall number of ones (including the checksum) even. In odd parity, a 0 or 1 is added to make the overall number of ones odd.

This error is signal-to-noise ratio. This error is influenced by capacity (bandwidth) and timing. This is calculated by C = R Log (1 + S/N).

So there is no way any digital signal (which you describe as simple 1s and 0s) will sound the same. The cables that reduce the errors more sound better. This is a very simplistic explanation. I recommend you do more research on digital to digital transmission. You will be amazed that things like cable length can greatly determine the quality of signal. Search for hdmi and cable length needed and you will be surprised by how changing length can change what you can watch.