Seeking recommendations for DAC to amplifier balanced XLR cable


The amplifier is Musical Fidelity M6si and the new DAC is RME ADI-2 DAC FS, both great devices. At first I connected them with AQ Colorado 1m RCA. I happen to believe, however, that balanced cabling, which is possible between these two devices, has theoretical advantages over single-ended. I ordered Sommer Epilogue XLR cable from Germany, plugged it in yesterday and compared... Unfortunately AQ Colorado beats the newcomer. I have 2 choices: stay with AQ Colorado RCA (since it already plays great) or look for a better XLR cable. Any advice here is welcome! 
ghjuvanni
I have the NORDOST FREY XLRs .... highly recommended 
@OP, 
You seem to be a glutton for punishment.😉

The Colorado's are fairly long in the tooth. I would consider moving to a more current interconnect.
I am getting a set of Mackenzie, soon.
I would PM John Rutan (Audioconnection) and get his opinion, before buying anything. He knows many brands, beyond the ones he sells and will give you the unvarnished truth.
Bob

plugged it in yesterday and compared

Is that a fair comparison? I'm assuming a fully run in, comfortable in your system cable   Versus   a tired, jet lagged, time zone confused, where the heck am I cold cable? 
@david_ten Perhaps not a fair comparison indeed. I don't quite believe in cable break-in, but I am going to give this newcomer a chance. I was just trying to listen to it but I had to switch it over to Colorado, the lack of clarity was so annoying. I think the not broken-in cable would be harsh. This one is not, it just misses detail. I doubt that this effect will improve with time.
Post removed 
@gdnrbob I have Mackenzies RCA. Good, but I slightly preferred Colorado RCA. Considering Mackenzie XLR though, as I don't want to pay a lot for that balanced interconnect
@ghjuvanni  Good on giving it a chance. Your first impressions may indeed hold.

I don't know your budget (and cable length), but I have been very happy with SR cabling after a number of comparisons with other cable manufacturers...at similar price points. Simply a suggestion. I don't like making recommendations because there are so many variables.

Depending on your budget I can offer another suggestion, but I'll wait for your response. It is what I am moving to for all of my analog cabling. 
You may want to check out balanced XLR cables from Acoustic BBQ.  They are sold on Audiogon by grannyring.  He will customize for you and can provide double ICs using the Schroeder method.  I used them between my phono preamp and my integrated amp.   Highly recommended.
I don't quite believe in cable break-in
Every new cable/interconnect I’ve ever had in my system required at least some break-in time.  I’ve also found that even wires that are already broken in can take some time to settle in to a new system.  The Sommer might not be the right interconnect but still deserves some more time to better assess its true qualities at least IMO. 

That aside, what improvements are you looking for and wha5 sound characteristics are most important to you?  This info will help greatly in making recommendations. 

Budget: around $500. Currently using Colorado RCA, but was hoping that balanced cabling can beat that Colorado. Sommer Epilogue doesn't. I look for detail, transparency, space. On some musical pieces, eg. electronic music, very sharply defined sounds are present. Colorado renders them; Sommer fuzzies them up.
Given what you’re looking for and budget I’d recommend used Acoustic Zen Silver Reference ll.  If they don’t provide a meaningful improvement you can sell them for little/no loss as the used market for AZ wires is pretty liquid.  Best of luck in finding what you’re looking for. 
Acoustic Zen looks interesting but $840.
Nordost Frey, around $1,500.
Kinda steep ...
I was wondering if simply another Colorado or Mackenzie would do the job. $840 is a good chunk of the $1,100 I paid for the DAC itself. But if I can find used, I can try that.
@soix  makes solid recommendations...I'd give his suggestions weight.

I did a very quick look, around your budgeted amount. Not knowing the length of the cable you need...

There is a Nordost Hemidall 2 1M XLR. 

There is a Cardas Clear Reflection 0.5M XLR ... I had the Clear Reflections in my system...a solid cable...but surpassed by SR in my system / per my preferences.
@soix @david_ten I need 1 meter, but can be less if I move the DAC closer to the amp. I trust your recommendations...
@david_ten Thanks. I found them. Which ICs from them do you enjoy?
@ghjuvanni,

I would recommend XLR’s from Audio Envy. You will find their cables deliver detail, transparency in spades. Ultra quiet and smooth sound. They come with money back guarantee.

https://audioenvy.com/product/monitor/onestain-53/
@ghjuvanni  I've been using / exposed to their top two tiers over three generations (including the current one). You may be able to get a used top tier short length from 2 generations ago at your budgeted price...but I'm guessing here, and it may be unlikely for 500. I can't speak to their other tiers as I do not have direct experience.

There are a number of cable threads in the forum that should address your needs. I recommend perusing via the search function. It may lead to some good options and options different from those already brought up.

A number of regular posters use SR in their systems. Perhaps they will chime in.  @millercarbon  often recommends older SR cabling. It may be helpful to reach out to him.
David ten has given you good advice on breaking in the new cable before a rash decision. I will say I am a fan of Audioquest, Nordost and Kimber ( in that order )
but I think it is certainly taste and very system dependent. 
I would recommend at least a DBS cable which is a patented method to keep the dialectric formed and some silver in the cable per your stated interest in detail.

johnny R at stated above is an Audioquest expert.

have fun, enjoy the music and your quest

jim
Acoustic Zen looks interesting but $840.
FYI, there’s a 1.5m pair of AZ Silver Ref l XLR (list $1500) available at US Audio Mart for $495.  At that price you’re unlikely to lose much/any $ if they don’t work out.  If you’re not already aware of it, you should go to Hifishark.com as you can find products being sold on other sites in addition to what’s listed here so you’ll see more opportunities.  Just type the brand and/or product you’re looking for in the search bar in the upper right and you’ll see all current listings, and there’s a tab that shows past sales, which is helpful as you can see what the item has sold for in the past.  Best of luck. 

@soix I will go for AZ Silver Ref. I hope they are not an overkill for my RME / Musical Fidelity setup.
I hope they are not an overkill

If the cable works for you and as advertised by soix, then this is something you don’t need to be concerned about.

In my experience, proper cable matching will let your components perform (shine) closer to their design limits.

Have you ordered it already?
If you haven’t, here are two I’d be personally interested in. Post negotiation, you should come close to your budgeted amount.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9b0eh-asi-liveline-interconnects-xlr-1-5-metre-interconnects

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9jg1c-ansuz-acoustics-signalz-p-1m-xlr-interconnects

Note, my ’interest’ may reflect different preferences and priorities than yours...

The site soix mentioned is a good one. I choose not to post / mention their listings here for obvious reasons, however, you should take a look to cover a wider range of what’s available in the moment.

All the best.
@david_ten No, I haven’t ordered anything yet. The listings of yesterday were for cables longer than I need, looking for 1m or less. I was even considering UpscaleAudio but that’s $840 :-(
But I’d like start explorations w/ this AZ cable @soix mentioned (and that I see consistently reviewed as great)
@soix @david_ten Update. Please read my original post to see what I had been trying to achieve. It turned out, the problem was not with the new cable but with output reference level setting on the RME ADI-2 DAC. The manual recommends +7dB setting for HiFi; it also informs that XLR is by 6dB louder. I did set +7dB and it was great for the RCA. However, balanced was not simply just louder, it was also distorted. Someone on a Polish audio forum, and at about the same time on the official RME forum (after long and heated discussions about voodoo, magic, illusions, etc.)  finally suggested adjusting the reference level correspondingly; I set it to +1dB so it is +7 again with the XLR boost. I didn't think about it myself not having prior experience with balanced connection; I thought that this +6dB is something specific to XLR, and that both the DAC and the amp will be in agreement about this higher level. Well, this is not so for the MF M6si!
Now with the +1dB setting the Sommer Epilogue XLR sounds fantastic! I have yet to compare it back to AQ Colorado RCA (with reference level back to +7dB). But the sound is already detailed, spacious, dynamic, not colored -- just as I wanted, so perhaps I shouldn't mess with this topic anymore :-)   I don't know if Acoustic Zen Silver Reference can beat my current sound appreciably. 
@ghjuvanni — Great detective work and congrats on finding the issue and on being happier about what you’re hearing.  I’d still say to give the Sommer some additional playing time to possibly show its full potential, but very glad to hear its already delivering what you were looking for.  This has to be especially gratifying after going through what you did.  Enjoy!
Just contact The Cable Company and get all the loaners you want to try.
@soix Sound is terrific; listening to Ricardo Villalobos "Re: ECM". I find it interesting that on 2 forums (not this one) people attacked what I heard, and then attacked various "audiophile myths" and marketing that I am not even interested in, spoke about illusion, and more, before one guy (on the Polish forum) suggested the effective and simple solution :-)

https://forum.rme-audio.de/viewtopic.php?pid=150056

BTW, do you think that the AZ can still improve anything? Is it worth the effort/cost? I have doubts and "better is the enemy of good."
@ghjuvanni  Congratulations on finding the cause and getting your system back on track.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Good that you followed through in the way you did.

You just "got it."  Don't be in a rush to move on. : )
On a related note. RME makes available bit test files for devices sending digital output to the ADI-2 DACs. I copied these files to a USB stick, put it in Bluesound Node2i which now serves as my network transport and "played" them on the RME ADI-2. I played them on both (MUTEC) Toslink optical cable, and Mogami 2964 coaxial. All tests pass! -- except 32 bit samples as S/PDIF transmits "only" up to 24 bit (this is as expected). This means Node2i works perfectly and so do both inexpensive cables (this Toslink is about $6; coaxial was $45 but only because I fancied a "nice" one, a $7 Hosa from B&H should do exactly the same trick). No fancy cables needed here.
After making sure that both optical and coaxial work perfectly, and therefore work the same, I kept the optical connection between Node2i and the RME DAC, while moving the coaxial to the digital output from my 27 year old ADCOM GCD-600 CD player (5 CD changer). I have just burned one of the test files, corresponding to Redbook (16/44) parameters onto a CD-ROM and "played" it as well -- again the test passed, so now I know that the CD passes all the WAV bits perfectly to the DAC. The DAC is therefore the heart of the system now, converting music from 1) CDs played on the old CD player, 2) streaming from Qobuz received from Node2i, 3) my FLAC files from an external disk connected to Node2i. Only one interconnect is needed, I can sell all others. Only the single balanced XLR cable, in my case Sommer Epilogue 1m) runs from the RME DAC to the MF M6si amp.
The whole system is greatly simplified, perfected, and (bit) tested. It is not very expensive, either. And, I might add, sounds real nice :-)
BTW, do you think that the AZ can still improve anything? Is it worth the effort/cost?
As I’m totally unfamiliar with the Sommer interconnect I really have no idea if the AZ would yield any improvements.  I would say that if you haven’t had the opportunity to hear many interconnects in your system it’s always worthwhile to hear some others for perspective if nothing else.  I’ve heard several interconnects in my system and the AZ Silver Refs are very good all-rounders, which you probably already know having read some reviews.  So if you do try them and don’t notice any meaningful improvements you’ll have some peace of mind that you’re in very good shape and can put interconnects out of your mind for a long time.  Since wires are relatively easy to try used with little risk I think it’s well worth the effort, again at least for perspective if nothing else, but that’s me.  In any event, have fun listening to and enjoying your new improvements. 

This is Sommer Epilogue:
https://shop.sommercable.com/en/Cable/HiFi-Home/NF-Phonokabel-Stereo-Paar-Epilogue-QuadCore-HighEnd-EPB1.html

Matthias Carstens, the designer of the RME ADI-2 DAC said on his forum:
XLR cabling has several benefits - no ground loops, better SNR, lower noise sensitivity. The quality of these cables does not matter much and they are not expensive, so go for them.

Balanced cables are designed to cancel out noise. This relatively inexpensive Sommer Epilogue in the XLR configuration sounds no worse than AQ Colorado in RCA. At this point I have doubts if messing up with cables is going to make any further improvement -- but, if I could try-before-buy, I am open to experimentation.
 
After 4 more weeks with Sommer Epilogue XLR we compared it to Audioquest Colorado RCA which I had been using previously. Please not that we are not comparing apples to apples because Sommer is balanced. Finding number 1: the two cables are pretty much exchangeable, it is very hard to tell the difference. But Sommer is around $100, while the AQ Colorado was $450, 50% off list $900. A total waste of money. Finding number 2: if really hard pressed, I'd prefer the Sommer XLR to the Colorado. This can mean, however, that XLR is preferable between RME ADI-2 DAC and MF M6si. 
If the XLR cable is between differentially balanced components, there is very little difference between any balanced cable... they are all great
... which suggests that spending any more than about $100 per pair is a waste of money. Possibly Mogami Gold would similarly be indistinguishable from the Sommer I am using 
The best way to know for you and your ears is DO the test and IF the less expensive stuff is the sonic equal, sell the others and move on
In this case, the less expensive (but balanced) is not just equal but preferable (albeit very slightly). Will be selling the rest
OP I mean this in the best way possible- discernment of overdrive, saturation, overload, clipping is a listening skill worth cultivating along with the incredibly more subtle differences between well constructed and engineered cables.
not sure I would rush to the later before ....

Did you ask Audioquest IF they could convert your cable to balanced ?
@tomic601 It would not be easy as balanced has 2 signal wires. At this point I don't believe it would make a difference, anyway. I feel it's time to go back to music and stop upgrading for a while :-) It all sounds wonderful now. Amplifier and DAC are great and I am down to just one interconnect: the balanced (Sommer Epilogue) XLR cable from the DAC to the amp. CD and Node 2i + disk w/ FLAC all go to the single DAC.
I have made neotech nemoi 1120 with silver aeco RCA's. They are better than siltech sq 18 and the audioquest angel i have used before. More details and better overal balance. At least 100 hours of burn in. You can make XLR cables yourself with some EIZZ screw type connectors. 

If you want them assembled, you could buy them as harmonic tech recta os at the cable company.
Canare Star Quad for around $70/pair at Blue Jean Cables.  EMI/RF rejection at reasonable price plus 30-day money back policy.

Or Van Damme 268-020 if you want silver plate OFC copper in the same price range.
Only if your components are differentially balanced will the use of XLR interconnects make a difference..   If you have d/b components, all XLR sound pretty much the same. 
@stringreen ,
+1,
I listened to Ralph Karsten when buying balanced equipment. If the equipment supports the AES 47 standard, then any XLR cable should perform as well as another.
Bob
I am playing around with cables. I have been using a pair of older Purist audio with RCAs. They were great cables in the 90s. I recently bought an amp with balanced inputs and wanted to try some newer technology and ventured to AQ red river vs Mackenzie and another pair of XLO don't know the model. The AQ was better than the XLO. Still trying to decide between the Red River vs Mackenzie but neither was better than the Purist but close. I do want XLRs and don't want to pay for the new Purist. For grins I went to Guitar Center and asked what there best microphone cable was and they referred me to a Mogami brand. I see they used OFC and they were a whomping $50 with a 60 day return policy I thought to try then out. Surprisingly good. I haven't ruled out AQ yet, but will be doing more test this weekend. Just thought I would share this. The fact that this cable comes this close at 1/5th of the price I could highly recommend you try them. Cables are very system dependent so trust your ears.
@magneto340  I would go with Mogami Gold. I am using Sommer Epilogue (imported from Germany) and I am very happy. Good quality XLR balanced cables should all be the same, I think. No reason to pay for exotic cables.
You should try JPS Labs Superconductor 3 ,They have everything you are looking for. I have a nice mint pair XLR for sale on Agon  in your budget.