Difference in sound between copper and silver digital cables?


Is there a difference in sound between copper and silver digital cables, or purely in the implementation?
pmboyd
As the French chef says "No diffawrance!" - BITS IS BITS!
Ideologues kindly butt out with your ill-informed opinions.
Yes, there is a difference, but it largely comes from the implementation. There are copper conductors, silver, and copper coated or copper infused with silver. The design and material used in the  dialectric also contributes to sonics.


If the Bits is Bits theory was true, which it’s not, optical digital cables would sound just as good as copper or silver digital cables, which they don’t. That’s because the signal is not really Bits. Duh! 😳 Besides, as I’ve been counseling, by the time the signal gets to the DAC it’s too late. The signal has already been degraded during the laser reading process due to a number of problems that have always been there.
Your system’s current sound and what you want more or less of determines the type of cable you should buy. Yes cables can be used like seasoning in the hands of a chef. You’re a sound chef. While design, solid vs. stranded, cotton vs Teflon and on and on all impact sound, silver does have a sound personality that always comes through. It is marked by sharp, crisp, and clear leading edges, slightly leaner overall presentation and the perception of increased speed and inner details. Place silver in cotton and silver becomes more open, natural and not quite as lean. However, it still exhibits the general silver sound in relation to pure copper.

Copper tends to deliver more mid-bass body and weight and is not as well defined in terms of leading edge detail. Bass is a tad more rounded and yes this can vary, but in general is accurate.

So you have sonic must haves and preferences. Your system does or does not meet these preference as well as you like so start cooking!

Caps and resistors, well most parts, also have a sound. One can dial in a system by seasoning with these parts and cables. This is my particular area of interest and one that I have many thousands of hours of experience in. Many Aphiles don’t believe this to be true or possible, but if one spends enough time, effort and due diligence on this area of study, then they would learn first hand just how real it is.

Take a simple tube dac with an output cap right before the RCA outputs. Try placing a Vcap Odam cap vs. say a Jensen copper foil cap in paper and oil and I can assure you this same dac will sound quite different depending on your choice. No ear straining is needed to hear the difference. My point is that materials matter and do indeed have a sound. Same is true for cabling.  


I tried an experiment a few years back...
- I built an extremely good digital cable with silver signal wires and exceptional RCA plugs
- I then "stepped back" the design by replacing the signal wire with copper - there was no change
- I then stepped back the design once more opting for a more affordable RCA plug - again there was no change.

The geometry of the cables is an advance Helix design, so that probably made a significant contribution to the performance of the cable.

The RCA’s finally used are silver coated copper, KLE Innovations Silver Harmony RCA and the copper wire was from Neotech.

With this design using a silver conductor seemed to offer no advantage.

With other geometries there may be some benefit to using silver conductors

Hope that helps - Steve
Yes you are right Doug! Always outlier experiences and who knows why? System? Ears? Break in? Bad pizza? 
@williewonka Steve: within the parameters of (the "experiment" / components / systems) you tested them, correct? Thanks.

With this design using a silver conductor seemed to offer no advantage.

Do you mean after they’re broken in? Before or after cryo? Yes I know what you’re thinking, “Are you hot dogging me?”
Williewonka 1-3-2020
The geometry of the cables is an advance Helix design, so that probably made a significant contribution to the performance of the cable.

Steve, I always have great respect for the very extensive work you’ve done with cables over the years. But in this case I’m wondering how or if you might have established what IMO is the requisite 75 ohm "characteristic impedance" for an unbalanced digital cable, using the helix geometry you have used for your analog interconnects.

Also, IMO, if the characteristic impedance of the cable was not known to be an accurately controlled 75 ohms the sonic consequences of the resulting mismatch to the impedances of the components being connected figure to be even more dependent than usual on the designs of those specific components, and probably also on the length of the particular cable. Making the sonic effects of the particular cable pretty much random and unpredictable among different digital applications, IMO.

Best regards,
-- Al

@david_ten - Ooooops sorry about that….
@williewonka Steve: within the parameters of (the "experiment" / components / systems) you tested them, correct? Thanks.
Yes - I was testing with digital audio files up to and including 24/192. They connected a Schiit Bifrost DAC and a Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB-S/PDIF Converter and an Apple PC as the source of the digital files via USB.

The amp was a NAIM 5i Mk II and the speakers are the Gershman Acoustics Sonogram model

I could not discern any degradation in audio quality at those sample rates, higher sample rates may have issues, but I am unable to test ot those rates.

I did drop down to the copper Harmony RCA and there was also no degradation, but I the silver plating on the copper harmony may wear off after 30 insertions, so I do not use them for anything.

My Silver Harmony RCA’s had been inserted around 40 times to that point without wearing to the copper underneath the plating. But this very much depends on the quality of the socket they are plugged into.

For all analogue cables I only use Harmony Absolute RCA’s

Hope that helps

@williewonka   Steve: YES.   Very much so. Thank you!
@almarg - I too wondered about this aspect of digital cables design.

It all started about 5 years ago when KLE Innovaitons contacted me about their products.

I built a very good analogue cable and wondered  how it would perform in the digital realm - so I simply tried it and  it worked great.

I contacted Keith Louie Eichman and we exchanged several emails on the subject. But although he assured me that his RCA's are perfect for digital application because of their impedance, he would not reveal the actual impedance. So I am unable to comment on this aspect in any further detail.

Apparently - they work extremely well with 50, 75 and even 110 ohm applications.

After a lot of reading from the web - could it be possible that the impedance of the RCA only has to be greater than 50,75,101 ohms? 

Perhaps it is the design of the actual RCA ?
 i.e.the neutral connection is very small compared to other RCA's 

I have tried a few different KLE Innovations RCA's in digital applications  and they all worked extremely well.

Sorry I could not provide more details - Steve


... could it be possible that the impedance of the RCA only has to be greater than 50,75,101 ohms?

@williewonka

Hi Steve,

Thanks for providing the additional background. But no, for accurate minimally distorted transmission of digital waveforms, the "characteristic impedance" of a digital cable, the output impedance of the component providing the digital signal, and the input impedance of the component receiving the signal, should all be very close to being exactly the same.

In saying that, I should emphasize two things. First, this has nothing to due with accurate conveyance of the digital bits, which figures to be perfect in any half-way reasonable interconnection. Second, the distortion of the waveform that is received by the destination component does not by any means have any **direct** relation to distortion that may result in the sound that is eventually heard, as it might in the case of transmission of analog signals. But what may happen is that the frequency components corresponding to that distortion of the digital waveform, which will be well into the RF region, probably at several tens of MHz or even more, may find their way past the receiving circuit (via grounds, power supplies, stray capacitances, etc.) and contribute to timing jitter at the point of D/A conversion, or to intermodulation or AM demodulation or other such effects at analog circuit points further downstream. All of this being very much dependent in unpredictable ways on the particular components, on the normally unspecified "risetimes" and "falltimes" of the signal provided by the source component (i.e., the amount of time required for the signal to transition between its two voltage states), and on the length and several other characteristics of the particular cable.

Ground loop effects between interconnected digital components can also be cable-sensitive, btw, potentially resulting in low-level high frequency noise being injected into the DAC or other receiving component, with consequences similar to those I’ve described above.

All of this is completely different than the potential effects of cables conveying analog audio signals, due to the vastly higher frequency components of digital audio signals. In the latter case bit rates are already well into the RF region (roughly between 1.5 and 10 MHz or so, depending on whether it is redbook data, 24/192 data, etc.), where imprecise impedance matching can degrade waveform quality due to signal reflection effects. But the frequency content of the risetimes and falltimes of all of those signals are at even much higher frequencies, at several tens of MHz even for redbook data as I said.

One thing that follows from all of this, IMO, is that any similarity that may be observed between the sonic effects of various metals and various geometries as used in analog audio cables vs. as used in digital audio cables is entirely coincidental.

And, finally, I would approach with a great deal of skepticism any claims that a specific wire type can simultaneously be optimal for 50 ohm, 75 ohm, and 110 ohm digital applications. And I feel pretty certain that nearly all other experienced digital circuit designers would agree with me. While it may not make any difference in some systems, or it might even make a difference in some systems that seems to be subjectively preferable, why do what amounts to introducing a known design flaw into the system?

Best regards,
-- Al

I have experienced very large differences between digital cables and I've tried many. I've paid less attention to materials/metallurgy when it comes to digital cables more to overall design. I've had silver, Kimber AGDL,  mixed materials, Cerious Technologies, and copper, Nirvana, Acrolink, Jorma.


As an overall comment over the years I've gravitated from all or mostly silver cables to all copper now. I prize warmth and musicality over excessive detail. The Jorma digital cable I use, hyper-pure copper, gives me a warm rich organic sound with plenty of detail.


My advice is to experiment buy some used digital cables and keep at it til you find one you love. 
@almarg - Al, thanks as always for you complete and thorough descriptions and reasonings.

Your point about... 
one "Wire Type" being optimal for 50, 75, and 110 applications.
It was the RCA connectors I was referring to as being suitable for those impedances and not the wire type. But I do understand that according to conventional wisdom,  the impedance of the RCA should match the cable - so I too, wondered how one connector could be used for all three impedances.

However. Keith Louie Eichman has been delving into the minutia of the science of cable and connector design for over 30 years and has far more knowledge than myself, so I have no reason not to believe his assertions about his RCA connectors. 

The only tools I have to test their performance is my ears and to me they sounded better in every way.

The geometry of my cables is a signal wire inside a helix coiled neutral wire and unfortunately I have no idea what the impedance of that cable might be.  But perhaps it is the cable geometry that is performing "the magic" here? 

My I first attempt at making a cable for SPDIF purposes used some wire from a piece of CAT6 Ethernet cable and Copper Harmony RCA's using the Helix geometry. The signal wire was a single CAT6 wire and the Helix neutral was a twisted pair.

My "point of reference" for the comparison was a commercially available 75 ohm 1 meter cable specifically designed for digital transfers from Van den Hul, that had the requisite 75 Ohm RCA's. This was a conventional Coax geometry.

The results even surprised myself - that simple little CAT6 cable provided significantly better performance than the Van den Hul product.

I do not claim that my Helix geometry, with the KLEI RCA's,  would work for any length of cable, since my interconnects, as tested, were only 3 ft long.

The set of cables I finally ended up keeping in my system were only 18 inches long. Which also seemed strange since, from what I have read on this forum,  a digital cable should be over a certain length in order to work at it's best..

But I did compare the 3ft to the 18 inch cable and found no difference

Others have tried my Helix design as a SPDIF interconnect on longer cables,up to 3 meters, and they claim to have had similar success. 

There are many out there that do not believe the claims I have made regarding the Helix Cables and the Harmony RCA's in my many postings on this forum. 

And - if I hadn't tried them for myself, perhaps I wouldn't believe those claims either.

But there are now dozens of people from around the world that have tried them and reported significant improvements in sound quality.
- So it is not just my ears that is hearing the improvement

Regards - Steve





Jorma digital gets rave reviews but at $1700 it's way out of my price range. What common or boutique brands with a balance of richness and detail can be had for ~$300? Notwithstanding the implementation, does silver coated copper give you the best of both?
I get "just try them," but, seriously, it would help to narrow the field.
@ pmboyd

Audio Envy Digital Cable fits your criteria easily and saves you $175; I compared against Black Cat Mk 2, Snake River Boomslang and Revelation and it beat them handily...

I prefer the sound of copper by a good margin but AE copper design is more transparent than several silver cables I tried but just more musical.


Wig
pmboyd, between the personal tastes of audiophiles and your preferences, no one here can direct you to the perfect choice. 

As a reviewer, I suggest you not only consider digital cables, but the companies that most impress you in terms of cabling. I have found that companies I enjoy speaker, power, etc. cabling also make favorable digital-related cables. Cable companies tend toward their house sound, and try to get their cables to have similar characteristics. So, if you like a particular company's power cords, speaker cables, etc. the odds are good you would be pleased by the USB. 

Failing that, a company with wide recognition for quality build and good to superior sound is Audioquest, with many models and price points. I vouch for there being discernible differences between models. 

I now use regularly Clarity Cable's Supernatural USB, which would be outside of your price category. However, the previous Natural USB may work for you. 
I've been trying different digital cables over the past three months.A couple of them were OCC silver which to me sounds too soft and smooth as opposed to Kimber which was edgy and harsh.Furutech (copper) was decent but somewhat smeared the music.I've got an Audio Envy on the way.I do like their ics.
Right now I'm using a Silnote Morpheus lll ($495)and it may be the winner.They do have a couple that are lower cost of you want to check them out.These are gold/silver/copper.There is no smearing and and a very good blend of warmth and detail.I have no idea if it's just the connectors that make the difference,but they do all sound different to me.
Something I liked quite a bit was an old Gabriel Gold ic cable which is also gold/silver/copper.It smeared the music a little and seemed more dynamic with a bit of edge and grit,but I like rock and blues so it made for some colorful enhancement.The Silnote is more refined.In the next few days I'll compare to the AE and see what happens.My two cents,hope it helps some:-)
Not looking for the perfect choice, looking to narrow an overwhelming field.
I was lucky to find the Jorma used so I paid much less than $1700 that's why I said be sure to check the used digital cables on here you will find some great deals.
If you want neutrality and unbelievable sound quality, look no further than Inakustik… I’m using a full loom and they are leaps above the 20+ brands I have tried.

Robert Neill is the Distributor:

www.worldwidewholesales.com

https://www.in-akustik.de/en/cables-and-accessories/reference-selection/digital-cable/

Wig


For a digital cable? No. Heck no. Zip. Nada. Zilch.


Construction can make big differences in noise, impedance, etc., but for a digital cable for audio if properly constructed silver or copper will make 0 difference. Emphasis on proper construction for material properties. 


W.r.t. the RCA connectors good for 50, 75, 100 ohm. No. Almarg you are too nice. First, pretty much no RCA is correct for characteristic impedance so likely the RCA stated was just equally bad for all impedances and hence little difference would be seen.


People will perceive differences and then try to assign them to something they understand even though they have no idea why the difference (or even with certainty that there is). That may sound harsh, but true.  In a high quality DAC, signal jitter can be virtually eliminated. It's not the 90s any more.
Silver is a better conductor than cupper.  But you can also hear the difference, and that’s the reason why you have to choose between both.
it depends of 2 things: 1: do you like to hear it a bit sharper, detailful?: Ag.. More neutral : Cu. 2 : it departs also from the equipment: how sounds your system: sharp, neutral,dull. You have to find out for yourself what sounds best for you in the entire system. Always search for the best match.: in my system Nordost silver.
Inakustik -- another expensive digital cable. I paid that much for my Synergistic Research digital back in the day, but I'm retired now, ~$300 is my budget.
Is there a difference in sound between copper and silver digital cables, or purely in the implementation?


Yes there is a difference. But implementation definitely still matters.

Take for example Synergistic Research Element cables. Element Copper and Element Tungsten are different only in the two metals. Its pretty easy to hear the differences. This is just as true by the way whether its speaker cables, power cords, analog or digital. Element CTS combines three separate cables, one of each element, and yes what you hear is the best qualities of all three combined.

So there clearly are differences in sound between copper and silver. But compare either SR Element with another cable using the same metal but made by someone else and it will be obvious just how big a role implementation plays in it.

It still boggles my mind that in this day and age we are still talking about digital as if it mattered. Because it doesn’t. Please see above. Wire is wire. How it sounds digital is how it sounds analog is how it sounds between components or the power from the wall. Or inside the speaker for that matter. Its wire. It matters. Wherever it is.
You asked simple question and got elaborates in the answer. Shortly: there is a difference. Shortly: unable to specify which is better because it is subjective. You have to listen. After all... you will find the differences even in the same DAC input types (AESEBU, COAX, fiber, USB).
The cabe is not just the conduit but also the filter. Some cables are better than the same with different length.
If you are audiophile don’t listen the fellows with bit is a bit approach. Let them focus on their consoles and best games. Use your ear instead. If you do not feel satisfaction from the item don’t buy it :)
Is this you or your guests you build your application for?

+1 on the Audio Envy digital cable.
I have tried a number of high end digital cables including ones made from silver and prefer those by Sablon, which are made from copper. Some of the cables I have tried are three times the price of the Sablon cables.
Another recommendation for Audio Envy digital cable.
audiozenology"People will perceive differences and then try to assign them to something they understand even though they have no idea why the difference (or even with certainty that there is). That may sound harsh, but true."

This is true and has been true since the very earliest stages of man’s existence however it is also true that people who fail to perceive something will sometimes then try to assign a reason for that that they understand even though they have no idea why they can’t perceive it. That may sound harsh, but true.
It riles them to believe
that you perceive
the web they weave
And keep on thinking free.
pmboyd,


You will notice that people are assigning the same characteristics w.r.t. sound that they experience with analog cables to digital cables. If you understand digital you will understand that makes no sense. That tells me they are assigning qualities based on expectations not reality. Suggestion is very powerful.


For digital, it is primarily about no bit errors (which are highly unlikely) and no added jitter. Jitter is going to come down to good signal transmission and that is from cable construction at audio frequencies. I won't discount the potential for noise injection into the sensitive analog portions of digital circuits but again, that is a factor of cable construction, not a material difference between copper and silver.


Some audiophiles say silver sounds bright. What would cause a cable to sound bright?  It either transmits high frequencies significantly better than bass frequencies which is again caused by construction at anything approaching audio frequencies and/or it causes high frequency ringing due to amplifier instability which is due to capacitance which again is due to cable construction not material not minor conductive differences.


These myths often start with vendors, who may take a property that is important at gigahertz frequencies, i.e. silver oxide conductivity and use it to promote a qualify at audio frequencies that is not justifiable.  A subset of audiophiles latches onto it and suddenly all silver cables are bright. It really makes no sense they are all bright when construction would far dominate any characteristic associated with "brightness".   


I will get flamed for this post, but I can probably count the number of audiophiles who claim silver is bright that have blind tested the exactly same constructed cable, one made with copper, one made with silver, on one finger. No worries, they can spend money on silver cables and keep searching for the next tweak for audio nirvana that they never reach, I will put that money into things that actually make a difference.
audiozenology" people are assigning the same characteristics w.r.t. sound that they experience with analog cables to digital cables. If you understand digital you will understand that makes no sense."

It makes perfect sense to use language, adjectives, and descriptives that are commonly used, defined, and understood and to invent hand-waving arguments that dismiss, discount, or dispute what people hear does nothing to further the discussion and everyone is free here to post they're own experiences.

"These myths often start with vendors"

Illogical, circular reasoning that is like saying "She is fat because she is overweight."
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Given the different way in which analog signals and digital signals are transmitted down connections (optical speaker cables, anyone?), it seems 100% commonsensical that design is going to play a large part in any perceived difference, and that carrying over to digital conventional associations of copper vs. silver in analog situations is spurious.
I have built and sold USB cables for years trying all manner of conductors. Easy to hear the sonic character of pure silver vs. pure copper conductors in identical designs. One can also easily hear synthetic vs natural conductor coverings. My customers could easily tell when sending them two different USB cables to try and report back. Same general differences as found in analog cables. Materials have a sound regardless of design. They just do.

Is it possible some are less able to hear these differences? Yes indeed.


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@audiozenology, perhaps if you speak from empirical evidence doing comparison on your own and say you perceive no difference, then your comment may lend some credibility but just stating theory from science book or wherever makes you fall into the same bucket of cynics.  

grannyring"I have built and sold USB cables for years trying all manner of conductors. Easy to hear the sonic character of pure silver vs. pure copper conductors in identical designs"

And that is the problem with those who have never undertaken such a task, chore, or effort they "surmise" from an elemental, basic, introductory text or from intuition or from a wikipedia or other internet "source" that such is not possible so they assert, argue, and insist that it is not possible but have never actually experienced that upon which they pronounce such unilateral, definitive, absolute conclusions and I therefore give you credit for "rolling up you’re sleeves" as Americans would say and actually doing some work!
If one doesn’t honor the inherent directionality of wire and cryogenically treat the wire then he cannot compete in today’s marketplace. In fact he can’t compete in yesterday’s marketplace.
avhifedelity,

I have lost count of the number of times I have "tested" things that have "obvious claimed differences", usually by the person standing in the room extolling those virtues, only to have them disappear when the ability to know what they are listening to also disappears. Silver over copper is one of those things that never lives up to its claims.


I am not a cynic, I am a realist with knowledge and experience. I am as likely to call out the so called snake oil vendors as I am to call out the "always cynics".

I will quote twoleftears as he is bang on. 
"and that carrying over to digital conventional associations of copper vs. silver in analog situations is spurious."

There is 0 reason for any of the qualities associated with silver, most specious at best with analog, to carry over to digital. 


If I wanted to be "cynical", I would question audiophiles on one had extolling the uber importance of dielectric and construction, and hence we must use teflon (though expanded polypropylene has a lower dielectric .. i.e. less energy stored), then the next sentence they will extol the virtue of natural dielectrics like cotton, which has a dielectric constant that can vary from 1.5x teflons value to 7-8x and is highly dependent on humidity and frequency, not to mention lack of manufacturing consistency, large impurities variations, etc.  When you attempt to have your cake and eat it too, it puts into question the validity of your reported results.
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My mom used to tell me you just can’t help some people. Seems she was spot on.  Still a great place this Agon! What can one possibly do after spending years and thousands of hours building, testing, listening then building again with various conductors just to have someone say all I have leaned is not true and a result of my flawed person and weak mind. What I do is smile and forge on. It’s what we all have to do.