Which is better, Toslink digital or S/PDIF?

The Nordost Blue Heaven Balanced Interconnects.  I’m not into the snake oil of cable mystique, but I did hear a difference—though minor—in my system with the Blue Heaven interconnects installed.  It is psychoacoustics or is it science?

I’ve long heard the “conventional wisdom” in audiophile circles that S/PDIF digital coax sounds better than toslink because it has more bandwidth, XYZ.   Personally, I’ve never done an A/B between the two interfaces and therefore I’ve never heard a difference that I can readily perceive.

Oddly, in my searching for DACs for my most recent posts, I came across this thread that digressed a bit to talking about digital S/PDIF vs. toslink.  The audiophile discussions about this topic and perceived differences people had perceived prompted a paper entitled, “Is the AES/EBU/SPDIF Digital Audio Interface Flawed?” that was presented at the Audio Engineering Society back in 1992.  If it’s digital and bits are bits–just 0s and 1s, then the sound should be the same no matter what.

Apparently (and I haven’t read the paper), the paper goes about and explains that there is indeed a difference between the sound of the toslink and S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital interface due to clock jitter.  Robert Harley from the Absolute Sound and Perfect Vision notes that this gives the toslink interface an “analog-like variability in the sound (caused by clock jitter)”

I always find these kinds of discussions interesting and I’ve always wondered: is it psycho acoustics? Is it physics? It is just psychological?  Do cables really make a difference, etc?

So, I want to convey two parting thoughts that this made me remember:

First: A good friend of mine is an electrical engineer and an audiophile.  He never bought into the cable theory until he tried a pair of Nordost cables.  He told me, “Everything I had learned told me that there shouldn’t be a difference.  But, sure enough, there was.  It was subtle; but it was definitely there.”  I hate to confess it, but I too have had the same experience with a pair of Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects.  The difference wasn’t startling, mind you.  But it was there.  There was a slight increase in clarity–especially in the upper frequencies.  Have I ever heard that with other cables before?  No!!  It’s maddening.  If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, then feel free to read this review on the Blue Heaven interconnects that I found.

Remember, I’m the poor audiophile. I don’t want there to be a difference between cables.  I don’t want to believe that there is a sonic signature.  I want to see all this demonstrated and measured scientifically!  But that then leads me to my second point:

Secondly: Read this story about Eddie Van Halen’s launch of his new guitar line.  Read how his longtime guitar tech laments, “He hears things that the rest of us don’t.”  He goes on to say, “Ed can even hear the difference between a guitar plugged into a 5-foot cable and a 10-foot cable.”  Most telling is the story of how he was able to tell the difference between the actual wood a guitar was made of.  Just by playing he knew it was alter wood and not basswood.

All this makes me wonder.  If there is indeed a difference, then it must be measurable.  It must be something like this Audio Engineering Society paper where there’s a test or measurement that we aren’t taking that will all of a sudden yield the “aha!” moment.

Shunyata is a name long recognized and respected in cables and especially with their power products.  They have this FAQ on their site about their products and engineering measurements.  It goes on to talk about DTCD analysis, which is basically a new parameter that they are measuring that supposedly proves why Shunyata cables are better.  I have no idea what DTCD is.  I don’t even know if it’s important.  Ultimately, what I applaud Shunyata in trying to do is put some science—hopefully real science—behind their claims.

There probably is something somewhere with cables, etc.  But, it’s probably a small percentage of the population that can actually hear it or their hearing will need training to be able to decipher those differences.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to be perfectly happy buying quality cables from www.BlueJeansCable.com and www.monoprice.com.  But, I can’t help but wonder what my system would sound like if I was able to snag a nice set of Nordost or Shunyata cables.  Then again, if you’re curious they ARE on sale at Music Direct! 😉  Knock yourself out:

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  1. It's surprising that Eddie Van Halen can hear anything.

    Regarding cables, you have been utterly duped by advertising nonsense. Electrical and optical signals are NOT herbs and spices . . . you should either learn about physics, or take up baking.

    "This is a
    very sweet set of cables indeed that can offer tonal balance that is just about
    perfect with a depth, image stability and quietness that you normally only hear in
    much more expensive models. Combine this with the virtually unique speed and
    rhythmic delicacy that has always been a hallmark of the Nordost approach and
    you have a cable that is not as brutal when it comes to exposing system flaws as
    it once was. Some will still prefer the heavyweight, bigger scale of the multi-strand
    heavy copper cabling on the market. They will like the warmth and cosy musical
    weight and punch of those cables as opposed to the Blue Heaven’s stunningly
    articulate and expressive abilities. It is also true that, while the Blue Heaven has
    notable resolution, the monofilament cables higher up the price scale take this
    and pure musical transparency to entirely new heights of sophistication. But, for
    systems of all prices and qualities, the Blue Heaven represents a brilliant solution
    to an age-old problem and for very reasonable money too."

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