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AES/EBU & S/PDIF digital datalinks
The balanced version of the Designers' Reference datalink features Swiss Neutrik XLR connectors, but with a special twist—they're supplied standard with no outer barrel. I understand from Denney that digital datalinks can't dump the shield to the outer connector, as in the DR interconnect. "Right, you won't get a lock. You have to tie it to the ground pin. But then having the shield floating around the pins creates noise that manifests itself in terms of grunge. Many balanced cables sound better when the outer connector shell is removed." Now there's a first. According to Denney, the actual geometry of the AES/EBU digital cables is slightly different from the interconnect's, in order to optimize the datalink's target impedance of 110 ohms.
Late in the game, a DR S/PDIF digital datalink terminated with gold-plated BNCs arrived. Urs Wagner of Ensemble is adamant that his Dichrono sounds best this way; the AES/EBU interface, he claims, is heavy with jitter, as is AT&T optical. BNC'd S/PDIF is his recommendation for lowest jitter and best sound.
Sound: Well, this was interesting. Over time, I've listened to many AES/EBU datalinks, and have concluded that certain sonic elements of their presentation are predictable. First and foremost, AES/EBU generally sounds quieter than S/PDIF. As a result, music is presented from a darker, more velvety background that can be a touch airier than S/PDIF. Since it's quieter and airier, images within the soundstage can be more round and palpable. One important caveat, however: Until now, I've always felt AES/EBU darkens in some way the upper-midrange/treble region, seeming to suck some of the life and energy out of this vitally important range. Also, while AES/EBU more often than not gets the midrange right, its bass can sound a bit loose and out of control, fatter and slightly less pitch-differentiated than S/PDIF. It occurs to me that if, other factors being held equal, AES/EBU is more jitter-laden than S/PDIF (footnote 2), this may explain to some extent these sonic effects.
Given that, the DR reigned supreme over all other AES/EBUs I've tried. Yes, I still noticed a slight reduction of energy in that upper-midband/lower-treble region, but somehow I found it less compromising than with most other balanced 'links in this regard. (Of these, only Chris Sommovigo's Illuminati Orchid AES/EBU approaches the same level of openness and energy in the presence region.) The DR's bass was tight and controlled, more taut and acoustic than most other cables managed with AES/EBU. The midrange was colorful, textured, and graciously harmonic on many recordings. And perhaps as a result of the endemic darkening in the upper mids giving rise to a slightly recessed presence region, the cable sounded quite attractive in the highs (as do many AES/EBU 'links)—but perhaps not quite as open-sounding and extended as some of the S/PDIF cables manage.
The same cable terminated with BNCs worked extremely well between the Ensemble Dichrono Drive and converter. It was obvious from the first moments that the energy in the upper midrange and above had been restored in a big way—a little too much restored, actually. That proved the case until about 100 hours of break-in had passed (footnote 3), after which the BNC'd DR performed brilliantly in every respect. The lower-through-upper-bass range was taut, powerful, and in control, the midrange was quite handsome (depending on the recording, of course), and the highs sounded smooth, linear, and extended. Altogether, the BNC coax proved a first-class performer, more revealing than the trick AES/EBU version (which nonetheless showed deft charm on less-than-stellar recordings).
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/cables/198synergistic/index.html#HoYqkJvwr2dU3OwZ.99
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