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Coaxial vs Optical - A subjective comparison

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SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
Hi guys,

The choice of digital audio cable is one that we all have to make if we separate our source (say CD transport or streaming device) from our DAC. One of the fundamental choices here is which technology we go with - the traditional coaxial (usually copper based) or the more recent optical (usually high quality plastic, or better, glass). While I don’t claim what I write here to be definitive or necessarily true across all systems, I would like to share my experience and subjective assessment of the two in my system.

I have been using the Nordost Silver Shadow - a highly rated coaxial (75 ohm) digital cable in my system for long now and have been quite happy with the same. In the past I did try a cheaper optical from Amazon but discarded it immediately. So I didn’t have a serious comparison between the two modes till now.

Recently I purchased Lifatec Glass optical cable - which is again highly rated, and I’d think in the same price range category as the Silver Shadow. So, these are comparable. My assessment is based on these two.

To begin, let me say both these are stupendous and one won’t go wrong with either. In terms of performance both are top notch. But then we don’t stop there, right? We want to know the specific differences. So here’s what I hear.

The coaxial shines with vocals and adds an X factor to the treble. Not a coloration exactly, but as I could decipher, it has to do with the the decay. The decay is slower, leading to more sustained tone with the coaxial. Naturally this makes the treble (cymbals etc) propagate more in the air giving the brilliance (not brightness). And the same also makes the vocals more melodious, more soulful. The coaxial therefore is capable of producing a more emotional impact on the listener. Some may say that coaxial also colors the tone, but that has not been my experience with this cable which does an equal job across all parts of the spectrum.

The optical on the other hand, has a relatively faster decay. It’s what I’d term as being more precise with the timing. Now, that doesn’t do much when the material you are playing is vocal heavy -eg soul, country, old Hindi or ghazal etc. In fact these are the genres where the melodiusness of the coaxial cable makes it preferable (at least for me). However, on any music that is rhythm heavy or has fast rhythm, I find the optical’s strengths come to play. For example in fusion or drut classical. This is where the optical starts doing justice to the drums and percussions. And in genres which has a lot of instruments, especially rhythm instruments, the optical starts edging out the coaxial as a cable of preference. This includes fusion and symphonic western classical. Rock could lie anywhere between the two depending upon whether it is soft or hard rock. The optical made the drums sound taut and crisp especially when they go fast making the listening experience more enjoyable. In comparison, the coaxial starts losing differentiation at higher speeds.

Another less prominent, but still distinct impression, which could be related to the one above is that the vocals and mids stand ahead in the soundstage with the coaxial giving a more holographic sound, while the drums start coming to the fore in the optical (seriously, though I don’t know why.. may be due to their distinctness) as the rhythm gets going giving a more concert like feel.

So, based upon my experience of the two, I find both the coaxial and the optical have their own areas of strength and it’s worth having both in the system if the equipment have the provision. It is fairly easy for me to switch from one to another with the press or two buttons on the remote. I can switch to coaxial for songs/albums (I usually play entire album at a time) which are lyrical and emotional, relatively slower and less busy. And switch over to optical for rhythm rich, fast and busy (many instruments) music. It is great to have that choice.

Of course as said earlier, my comparison is subjective (to my listening and to the rest of my system). But given that the two candidates are pretty capable ones, there might be some ounce of representation of the camps they belong to.

I’d also like to hear from those of you who have compared the sound from (comparable) coaxial and optical digital cables in the past or those of you who use both interchangeably. Does your experience correlate with mine in any way? Or if different, what’s it? The idea is to share and learn and in the process make the quest richer.
 
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Sutradhaar

Active Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2019
Messages
104
Points
28
Location
Noida, Uttar Pradesh
Nordost Silver Shadow
Lifatec Glass optical cable

Can you share the source for purchasing these Interconnect cables ? Since the pricing varies, would like to follow your researched source.
 

SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
Nordost Silver Shadow
Lifatec Glass optical cable

Can you share the source for purchasing these Interconnect cables ? Since the pricing varies, would like to follow your researched source.
I bought Nordost over ebay some time back. And Lifatec from a FM. Both are pre-owned (doesn’t matter much in cables as long as the connectors are in good shape).
 

supersaiyan

Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2019
Messages
41
Points
8
Location
Poland/native-Chennai
i have a cambridge cxn i tried connecting them with usb to mac and via lan.
lan sounded better than usb or even the coax.
dont know why.
and i also had an improvement in sound when i changed the cable to a cat 6.
anyone care to explain y is this so.
shouldnt the usb or the coax sound better ?
usb cable i used was from audioquest. coax was from kimber while the lan both cat 5 and 6 are local brands.
 

SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
i have a cambridge cxn i tried connecting them with usb to mac and via lan.
lan sounded better than usb or even the coax.
dont know why.
and i also had an improvement in sound when i changed the cable to a cat 6.
anyone care to explain y is this so.
shouldnt the usb or the coax sound better ?
usb cable i used was from audioquest. coax was from kimber while the lan both cat 5 and 6 are local brands.
Does Mac have coaxial out? Or you used some converter to connect the coaxial cable?
 

SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
used a sound card from asus
Sorry for asking another question. But is the coaxial a 75 ohm
Thanks Sachin. I’ll keep a lookout for these cables. Or will put it in my bucket list for London shopping - Dec
Sutradhar, you have the Klipsch speakers which are known for their brilliance in the treble section. I’d imagine coaxial might complement them better than optical.


i have a cambridge cxn i tried connecting them with usb to mac and via lan.
lan sounded better than usb or even the coax.
dont know why.
and i also had an improvement in sound when i changed the cable to a cat 6.
anyone care to explain y is this so.
shouldnt the usb or the coax sound better ?
usb cable i used was from audioquest. coax was from kimber while the lan both cat 5 and 6 are local brands.
Perhaps @jls001 can throw some light?
 
Last edited:

MaSh

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 12, 2012
Messages
2,894
Points
113
Location
Bangalore
I need a lifatec optical too. Do reach out if there is one for sale

MaSh
 
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Sutradhaar

Active Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2019
Messages
104
Points
28
Location
Noida, Uttar Pradesh
Sorry for asking another question. But is the coaxial a 75 ohm


Sutradhar, you have the Klipsch speakers which are known for their brilliance in the treble section. I’d imagine coaxial might complement them better than optical.




Perhaps @jls001 can throw some light?
Sachin !! I am ever so grateful to you for giving that hint of coaxial over optical. I listened to you and shifted to coaxial (Cliktronis) and immediately felt the difference.
Now I want to go deeper & want to feel how it performs with those coaxial that you use.
This seems like a never ending rabbit hole ‍♂
 

Sutradhaar

Active Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2019
Messages
104
Points
28
Location
Noida, Uttar Pradesh
See !? I just learnt another thing from you here. Never new that coaxial cable has ohm ratings
So, now that you have mentioned, PLEaSE do advice what rating should I look for ? In terms of resistance units
 

SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
See !? I just learnt another thing from you here. Never new that coaxial cable has ohm ratings
So, now that you have mentioned, PLEaSE do advice what rating should I look for ? In terms of resistance units
If you are using coaxial cable to carry digital signal, always go for 75 ohms impedance cable. It will minimise the losses in transmission. A detailed explanation can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/difference-between-50-ohm-75-coaxial-cable-angelina-li
 

oracle1974

Active Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Messages
354
Points
43
Location
Mumbai
I need a lifatec optical too. Do reach out if there is one for sale

MaSh
I do have a lifatec optical cable 60cm which I am not using. It has a 3.5mm jack as one of the termination. If this is of use to you , please send me a pm.
 

MaSh

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 12, 2012
Messages
2,894
Points
113
Location
Bangalore
I do have a lifatec optical cable 60cm which I am not using. It has a 3.5mm jack as one of the termination. If this is of use to you , please send me a pm.
Oh thank you for reaching out. 3.5mm Jack? Do you mean a mini optical plug on one side? I ideally need a normal optical termination on both sides. However, I will try to look up mini to the normal optical adaptor, if there is one, I will PM you for your cable.

This is what I need:


And this is what you have I assume:


MaSh
 

oracle1974

Active Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Messages
354
Points
43
Location
Mumbai
Oh thank you for reaching out. 3.5mm Jack? Do you mean a mini optical plug on one side? I ideally need a normal optical termination on both sides. However, I will try to look up mini to the normal optical adaptor, if there is one, I will PM you for your cable.

This is what I need:


And this is what you have I assume:


MaSh
Yes, I have the second one.
 

SachinChavan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
465
Points
63
Location
Thane, Mumbai
I do have a lifatec optical cable 60cm which I am not using. It has a 3.5mm jack as one of the termination. If this is of use to you , please send me a pm.
One of the striking things about Lifatec Glass (apart from its shocking flexibility) is the tightly snapping connection it makes with the ports. I remember reading that a tight connection is very important for sound quality from optical cables.
 

mpasanthosh

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2015
Messages
101
Points
28
Location
Salem
Hi guys,

The choice of digital audio cable is one that we all have to make if we separate our source (say CD transport or streaming device) from our DAC. One of the fundamental choices here is which technology we go with - the traditional coaxial (usually copper based) or the more recent optical (usually high quality plastic, or better, glass). While I don’t claim what I write here to be definitive or necessarily true across all systems, I would like to share my experience and subjective assessment of the two in my system.

I have been using the Nordost Silver Shadow - a highly rated coaxial (75 ohm) digital cable in my system for long now and have been quite happy with the same. In the past I did try a cheaper optical from Amazon but discarded it immediately. So I didn’t have a serious comparison between the two modes till now.

Recently I purchased Lifatec Glass optical cable - which is again highly rated, and I’d think in the same price range category as the Silver Shadow. So, these are comparable. My assessment is based on these two.

To begin, let me say both these are stupendous and one won’t go wrong with either. In terms of performance both are top notch. But then we don’t stop there, right? We want to know the specific differences. So here’s what I hear.

The coaxial shines with vocals and adds an X factor to the treble. Not a coloration exactly, but as I could decipher, it has to do with the the decay. The decay is slower, leading to more sustained tone with the coaxial. Naturally this makes the treble (cymbals etc) propagate more in the air giving the brilliance (not brightness). And the same also makes the vocals more melodious, more soulful. The coaxial therefore is capable of producing a more emotional impact on the listener. Some may say that coaxial also colors the tone, but that has not been my experience with this cable which does an equal job across all parts of the spectrum.

The optical on the other hand, has a relatively faster decay. It’s what I’d term as being more precise with the timing. Now, that doesn’t do much when the material you are playing is vocal heavy -eg soul, country, old Hindi or ghazal etc. In fact these are the genres where the melodiusness of the coaxial cable makes it preferable (at least for me). However, on any music that is rhythm heavy or has fast rhythm, I find the optical’s strengths come to play. For example in fusion or drut classical. This is where the optical starts doing justice to the drums and percussions. And in genres which has a lot of instruments, especially rhythm instruments, the optical starts edging out the coaxial as a cable of preference. This includes fusion and symphonic western classical. Rock could lie anywhere between the two depending upon whether it is soft or hard rock. The optical made the drums sound taut and crisp especially when they go fast making the listening experience more enjoyable. In comparison, the coaxial starts losing differentiation at higher speeds.

Another less prominent, but still distinct impression, which could be related to the one above is that the vocals and mids stand ahead in the soundstage with the coaxial giving a more holographic sound, while the drums start coming to the fore in the optical (seriously, though I don’t know why.. may be due to their distinctness) as the rhythm gets going giving a more concert like feel.

So, based upon my experience of the two, I find both the coaxial and the optical have their own areas of strength and it’s worth having both in the system if the equipment have the provision. It is fairly easy for me to switch from one to another with the press or two buttons on the remote. I can switch to coaxial for songs/albums (I usually play entire album at a time) which are lyrical and emotional, relatively slower and less busy. And switch over to optical for rhythm rich, fast and busy (many instruments) music. It is great to have that choice.

Of course as said earlier, my comparison is subjective (to my listening and to the rest of my system). But given that the two candidates are pretty capable ones, there might be some ounce of representation of the camps they belong to.

I’d also like to hear from those of you who have compared the sound from (comparable) coaxial and optical digital cables in the past or those of you who use both interchangeably. Does your experience correlate with mine in any way? Or if different, what’s it? The idea is to share and learn and in the process make the quest richer.
In the past most of my transports had optical out, and when i compare them back to back with each other, every optical transport sounds different than the other, my understanding is that the way the circuit is implemented either coaxial or optical matters a lot.
The implementation in your DAC should be considered as well, ideally the transport outputs a signal that is being processed by the DAC.
There are sound quality changes between optical and coaxial, but i would prefer one that best suits my ear.
Sometimes I prefer the optical and sometimes the coaxial as well.
Optical cables when i used them in the chain, I felt the lows to be much better, but coaxial was much suited to my ears, a tad bit more cleaner and smoother as well.

You could try to find another transport that has optical out and compare it to your current transport as well.
 

mpasanthosh

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2015
Messages
101
Points
28
Location
Salem
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