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.

svenjosh

@svenjosh thank you for sharing your review of various AES cables.  
curious, would you be willing to try a Mogami 3173 AES cable to expand the comparison?

Mogami page 

 

@svenjosh  I just bought a streamer that uses AES/EBU.  thanks for your great review.  So 6 months later what cables are you using?  I'm an actions-speak-louder-than-words guy.

thanks,

Jerry

@carlsbad2 I moved on…. I did not own the Holo May DAC. It belonged to a friend as I mentioned before. I returned it to him. After much research and listening, I bought the playback designs Streamer and DAC. Now I am using PLink which is the best way to connect. I have since sold my Grimm Mu1. 
 

Having listened to most top end (price no bar) DAC/streamer combos, I can say without doubt, USB only wins if you listen to DSD 128 and above as AES cannot transfer above DSd 64. So if you do not have the Optical output (this is not the usual digital optical out but a different standard), the next best is AES/EBU. I2S and USB should be last choice. 

I've tried many digital cables throughout the years and I keep going back to Black Cat especially the Tron AES/EBU. It just makes everything sound right. Top to bottom are extended, the sound is extremely clear with a massive soundstage with proper placement of instruments. Its just truly awesome.