Digital audio has reached an age where we no longer discuss it in terms of something ready to evolve or eventually come of age. It's already a vivid reality. I'm not talking merely about Redbook, SACD, and DVD Audio, but about the whole movement of high-end audio that is revolutionizing the use of modern technologies that are at present pretty much forfeiting the use of physical discs altogether.
With constant dropping prices of storage media, high resolution audio has already made a grand entrance into the audiophile's home. True, there is indeed an ongoing debate about the actual benefits of higher bit resolution and sampling frequency, but no matter where your opinion stands, the fact remains that the industry still needs digital cables.
Meet the LessLoss Digital Cable
In case you might have missed it, I already raved about other types of LessLoss cables here … Louis Motek and the LessLoss Audio team always seem to go a bit further, and in a direction that others might have missed, or didn’t elaborate on properly. Now, I wouldn't exercise my healthy ego by calling myself an audio connoisseur, but aficionado I can indeed. Audio cables, for me, are (not) a modern audio man's jewelry. For me, they really do become an integral part of my system, and represent day-to-day tools which I need in both my 'official' reviews/testing, as well as when I'm personally listening.
If you by any chance belong to those severe skeptics who doubt the actual effect that cables can have, then please do you homework. As written many times, and in many places, high-end audio is as much a place of R & D as in other industries. There are of course some companies that do try their best to sell snake oil. Take your time! Read, research, listen and find out for yourself. Even confining our comparisons only to the very basic parameter of conductivity, we can already perceive and discuss differences. Beyond that, adding more science reveals some drastic changes in any application that requires cables. Each application will have different needs. There's a whole world out there, even in something as simple as 'just a cable.'
The era of error and jitter
When dealing with digital audio, one term always comes up: Jitter. It’s believed by many that jitter alone causes all the problems or differences in digital audio playback. Even at higher resolutions and deeper bit count, jitter can result in quite mediocre playback quality. Would it be close-minded to go so far as to state that higher resolution digital audio files are not the actual source of the improvement? Some have contended this. I wonder about this sometimes, because I have noticed that some well-mastered 44.1kHz 16-bit Red-book CDs sometimes sound the same or even better then its high-res version. There are many behind-the-scenes parameters we don't know in these cases, so it is clear why we struggle to come to terms with the hard facts. Somebody once measured a bunch of 96 kHz files, publicly available for sale, which, in the digital domain, had absolutely zero content above 22.05 kHz. Suspicious, anyone...? Or maybe the better sound has only to do with better A/D conversion (lower Jitter)? As time goes on, the technologies in the studios improve, too, or so one would like to think. In any case, we have to go by our ear, not by the marketing label!
What about the famous connection between Jitter and the length of a digital cable? We could easily assume, without actually trying, that there is not going to be any difference just because of the length of the cable. As we know from experience, USB cable (and audio cable, for that matter) length differences bring their own set of problems and anomalies for us to deal with. Are we talking only RFI and distortions of intermodulation? It’s still not completely obvious to what extend they really affect the performance. But the fact is, there is no absence of such.
Another perplexing thing is the opposite. Shorter digital audio cable lengths also effect performance in a most unexpected way. This is something that baffled me, especially since we were dealing with 'true 75 Ohm impedance.' With the introduction of digital audio transfer many audiophiles didn’t pay much importance to exact impedance matching. It was quite common that run-off-the-mill, cheap audio RCA cables were most often used between CD transports and DACs (digital audio converters). With the advancement of digital audio and development of new refined devices, we started to pay more attention to everything connected to digital playback. So it was only inevitable that digital cables were to come into our focus. As mentioned and seen, it’s a fact that we haven't seen very short digital cables in the last few years. Why? It seems that a certain length affects their performance. What is exactly the phenomenon happening here?
LessLoss pinpoints it as radio frequency Signal Reflection. As all wires introduce some sort of resistance and attenuation, consequently, when the signal goes through the cable, its amplitude will be to some extent lowered. In their elaboration, they continue to explain how with greater cable length, the difference of signal to reflection is greater by the time it reaches the cable output.
Our world and especially the Aether is highly polluted with all sorts of electro-magnetic smog. Coming down and across our living spaces through our electronic devices, WI-FI routers, mobile phones and other audio gear, all these introduce additional sets of interferences. This brings us further to the implementation of effective shielding.
Electromagnetic signals of any kind, in order to maintain integrity, need to be shielded from this noise. Industry dealt with EM interference quite simply during the past century. How much research and know-how truly came into our typical digital cables? With digital information transfer, we’re dealing with a new set of problems because the frequencies are so high. LessLoss took to some further research and they introduce a new tuned shielding approach:
· copper foil
· densely-braided, silver-plated, copper shielding
· dielectric spacer
· even higher density copper shielding
· very dense double layer of finely braided carbon fibre
· two long ferrite rings at the ends
Their main point is that the normal traditional way of shielding simply is not ample with digital signals. This makes sense as higher frequency digital signal transfer acts in a completely different way than audio signals.
Enter the era of the digital hub
These days so many digital devices clutter my listening room. Many were almost unimaginable just a few years back. DACs, USB to SPDIF converters, Bluetooth to SPDIF converters, etc. With all these interfaces, we are dealing with digital cabling of one sort or another.
As written above, the simple days of a household RCA cable taking care of all these connections is over, and as digital audio playback formats are evolving and in widespread use, it is about time that manufacturers and the public take seriously this segment of high end signal transfer.
Impact on Music
Digging up my listening notes and summing up the comments into my working draft revealed quite a few interesting points. As with the LessLoss DFPC power cables before, there was no need to push hard and rack my senses to recognize the clear distinction when I inserted the LessLoss digital cable into my system.
I’ve used it in all the possible combinations of my digital rig and in each configuration I got a boost in performance. Each time resulting in the same types of remarks, only to a different level.
From USB to S/PDIF, the Audiobytes Hydra USB interface brought a new level of high performance to my listening room. It's quite remarkable how delicate the handling of digital signals becomes. I always listen to people's comments on how hard is to set up a turntable properly. It demands some know how and patience. With the advancement of digital audio things did not get much simpler! There are so many variables to work with, that it might boggle one's mind at times. From the software used for replay, operating system parameters, drivers, type of drives (flash recommended), etc. This was just the beginning. Now enter the complexity of connecting different digital components. Does it matter? You bet. When counting on USB to provide the conversion of audio files to an S/PDIF stream, things get seriously nuanced. I have quite a few of these types of devices on hand and the difference becomes night and day. A great example is the above mentioned Audiobytes Hydra. Performance was altered some 30%, instantly, compared to other devices. Now how would that much difference allow one to hear the quality differences involved in further signal flow from the S/PDIF output to the DAC? Would there be any?
This is where digital cable “magic” happens or fails. Having on hand a few different digital cables from entry level to esoteric ones, the LessLoss digital cable again produced the qualities that their other products bring forth. Consistency of performance is the hardest thing to keep across a whole product range, but LessLoss somehow pulls it off repeatedly with success. This says something about the seriousness of the development concept behind the LessLoss brand.
If you think the days of Red Book audio are over you might revise your knowledge. Just take First Impression Music CD’s for example. My collection of their recordings sound as good if not better than many high-resolution files. There is still magic to be found in CDs if they are mastered correctly. And it seems they are here to stay for some time.
I use the Astin Trew AT3500 plus CD player exclusively for my CDs and it performs very well. I wanted to see what would happen when used as a transport and with the addition of the LessLoss digital cable. Sending the signal to either the April Music Eximus DP-1 or Lampizator Level 4 DAC, things went subtle.
Digital is far from being simple. It’s not as simple as impedance matching. This is the foundational building block, but more it to be had from logical extensions to this in terms of refinement of performance.
Regardless of whether I was playing Red Book or high-resolution files, the LessLoss digital cable showed its strengths clearly. Fluidity, transparency and that recognizable LessLoss impact on the dynamics. The motif that LessLoss carries across the whole range is 'unconstricted energy.' I'm often perplexed about how to describe it, but the easiest way perhaps is to put it into words in 'palpable music.' Or even simpler, in terms of musicality. No matter what component is under review, at the end of the day, musicality is the key to performance.
The LessLoss DFPC power cable started a quiet revolution. People were a bit reserved with my enthusiastic review, but once they tried it, the “conversion” was of no question. I displayed the potency of the DFPC power cable on many occasions when I was being told repeatedly how 'cables are hoax.' Not in a single instance I was proven wrong. People might have experienced the difference according to their own mileage and listening talent, but the fact regarding acknowledgement of higher performance was continuous across all the skeptics.
I would be so bold as to say that the LessLoss digital cable brings the same amount of effect that the LessLoss DFPC power cables do. Louis Motek and the LessLoss team are consistently doing something substantial in the realm of modern audio cable industry. Event though this industry is full of half-eared designers and even the occasional snake-oil venture, LessLoss is different. One can instantly grasp and dive into the thought world of Louis Motek, his design philosophy, and, most importantly, one can appreciate the practical results.
Sometimes I feel like interconnects and speaker cables are easier to compare than power cords and digital cables. There might be some truth in that. With digital cables, there is often little or almost no difference to be heard. So, when something substantial comes along my sensors go on red alert. This happened again with the LessLoss digital cable. The difference is clear, both performance wise, and in musical impact.
Do not overlook the LessLoss digital cable if you’re upgrading your digital cables or adding new ones. Your digital horizon will expand greatly.
Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..