AES/EBU vs RCA s/pdif into dac, RCA analog out

Hi, this seems like it may be a dumb question, but here goes. If you feed the digital signal into the dac via AES/EBU and then use the dac's analog RCA outputs to your preamp (preamp only has RCA input), would this result in a better sound than using the dac's RCA s/pdif digital inputs? Or would the results be exactly the same? I hope I'm making this clear: AES/EBU vs RCA s/pdif coax input in while  using analog RCA out.  I don't currently have an AES/EBU digital cable, or I would just try this out.  I am considering purchasing one just to see if there's any difference. Thanks for any advice.


I'm currently running AES/EBU and RCA Digital into my DAC and RCA analog to my amp.  The DAC has a remote control and all inputs are available so it's just a matter of switching inputs from the remote.

I'm not running any special digital cables.  That being said I hear no differences when I switch between RCA Digital and AES/EBU.  I want believe that AES/EBU is better but if someone switched the inputs I wouldn't be able to tell you which input was selected.  That being said all the equipment is in the same rack.  I suspect in cable runs over 20ft the AES/EBU would win.

The best method is try it and see if you can hear a difference. AES cables can be pretty cheap and tere are a lot of people who claim they can hear the difference. .  For reference I'm using the PI2AES / Raspberry PI for a streamer and to me all the inputs sound good.

Thanks Danager. Yes, I also want to think that AES/EBU digital input must be better, but that may just be prejudicial thinking. I will have to try an AES/EBU cable to see. To make a fair comparison tho, the AES/EBU cable should be the same manufacturer/model as the RCA s/pdif digital cable. Of course this means that if you have an expensive RCA coax s/pdif digital cable, you'd have to buy it's even more expensive AES/EBU stablemate from the same manufacturer. As an audiofool, I'm up for that. Just don't tell my wife!

There is no general answer, as in theory, the two inputs (coax SPDIF and AES3) should sound the same. In older or less well engineered DACs, one could sometimes hear a small difference between the inputs, but I have not noticed differences with recent DACs I've tried.

Try to get the cable on a money-back basis, is my advice.

(P.S. AES3 is the current designation for what is sometimes called AES-EBU.)

Typically AES will be better as an input than coax. But it depends (like virtually everything in high end audio). What is your source? This makes a big difference. For that matter, what DAC? If you have a $10K or $20K DAC AES is likely to sound better. If you have a $600 DAC it is unlikely to make a difference. The “ifs” go on.

There is a place under your UserID to place some photos of your system and components. This would give use a big help in answering your question. And you would not have to keep repeating the components in every question.

I'm running AES/EBU from my DDC to my Dac.

I like it better than the I2S. More depth.

My source is an Aurender A20 music server feeding it's usb only output to a  Berkeley Alpha USB DDC. From there, I can output AES/EBU or RCA S/PDIF coax into my Weiss DAC202 (no usb input on the Weiss DAC202). The Aurender A20 has it's own internal dac, but I find that to be bettered by the external Weiss dac.

Max Townshend felt that unbalanced RCA's sounded better than balanced XLR's due to XLR's added circuitry. That RCA's led to more "pure sound".

That XLR's were designed and good for very long cable lengths. 

So all of my Townshend cables(speaker, IC's, digital cables) are RCA. 

Please do. Max Townshend was a genius in understanding sonics and design. And ahead of his time.....

Townshend's Seismic vibration isolation products are fantastic. As are their cables.

OP, sounds like you have a lot of DACs. You might consider consolidating down to a N20 and a single DAC. I had a Berkeley Alpha Reverence 3 for a while. My Aurrender streamer only  —> DAC (Audio Research Reference CD9SE) sounds best with AES… but not by much. From DAC to preamp XLR… but single ended high quality interconnects of the same brand and level sounded pretty much the same (Transparent Ultra - current iteration).

@ghdprentice, please note that there is only one dac  being used in my system. I am not using the built in dac in the Aurender A20, I am sending the A20's  digital signal via USB to the Berkeley Alpha USB digital to digital converter which outputs the digital signal via AES/EBU or S/PDIF to the external Weiss DAC202. The Weiss DAC202 is doing the digital to analog processing.  Thanks for your impressions about AES and single ended sound quality.

Thanks @heymikey. That is my point. One really great DAC will sound better than one run of mill one. The higher quality the DAC, assuming it supports the sound quality you really like is much better than owning several. Put all your money in one great DAC and you are likely to enjoy the music much more.

@ghdprentice  yes, my goal is to purchase an end game dac when possible. As the cost of such a dac would be north of 10K, my plan for the time being is to optimize my current gear. While my Weiss DAC202 is an older model, it is still no slouch. Dac recommendations (under 8k) welcome.

@heymikey  I’m curious about the Dac performance of the A20. I find mine to be as good as anything I have tried in my system. In your comments you mention you like the a20 dac more tyan the external DAC but you still the Weiss.


I have not tried “end game dacs” but I’m curious what improvements I might see.

A little off topic but there are not many people with the A20’s.