With the release of the Chord Electronics Blu Mk.2 and recently announced Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler, I’ve gotten many inquiries about the best digital BNC cables to use. These digital products still sound great with stock cables but, as you’ll see, there are huge gains with a better digital cable. With a more affordable M Scaler on the horizon, I hope this survey will help those looking to maximize the performance of their digital playback system.

What sounds best?

I was curious myself – so I went on a mission. I’ve spent the fast few months gathering and experimenting with a large array of digital coaxial cables (more than 25). I’ve percolated a few cables and came out with an assortment that should cover all palates.

My personal preference prioritizes timbre accuracy, which I would describe as a rawer and less glamorous sound. I would trade transparency, resolution, and soundstage for a more accurate hue and a fuller sound. Your tastes may be different.

The Nordost Valhalla 2 Reference cable used in the Blu Mk.2 review is $3,299 per meter – and you’ll need two. My goal was to also explore more affordable and alternative high-end options.

As you probably know, I’m not one to shy away from cable reviews:

I’ve received plenty of hate mail and condescending comments from those who love to speculate. Others want measurements to somehow quantify emotional response.

Speculating is easy. Doing actual listening, experimenting, and swapping gear around for the sake of curiosity – is something else entirely. As to why someone would spend thousands of dollars on a cable – the “Mind Your Own Business” principle works wonders – both in audio and in life. If a grown-ass adult has the cash to blow on a cable and she feels it gives her an eargasm – your opinion doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need saving.

Some claim cable reviews are rubbish because they’re system dependent. Well, I went ahead and tested these cables on different systems. I swapped out power conditioners, DACs, cables, amplifiers, and even speakers. These BNC cables were also tested on both Mutec REF10 and SOtM sCLK-OCX10 master clocks (reviews coming). My notes for each cable were written in separate documents over the course of a few months and were joined at the end. I wasn’t aware of the pricing on most of these cables until writing this review. Expensive doesn’t mean it sounds better and I prefer not to know the price ahead of time anyway.

None of these cables are perfect and they’ll all have tradeoffs. Some are going to be grainier but have better tonality while others will be smoother with a more porcelain tone. I’ll try to describe them in a way where you could decide for yourself what’s best for your system.

Procedure

Given the number of cables on hand, you could imagine the number of comparisons that had to be done. If I found a group of cables that performed similarly, I’ll grab the cheapest one from that group and move onto other flavors.

Quick back-to-back comparisons seem like the most effective way to outline some of the finer differences between cables (focus, tone, quietness, etc). But spending days with a cable helps you get a holistic impression of how a cable sounds over different days, genres, moods, and systems (tempo, pitch, cohesion, extension, etc).

In the end, I just had to put in the listening hours and write down notes. Grouping cables with a similar tone also helped isolate differences. Luckily I had all the cables on hand for the entire review so swapping in and out was quick and easy. Once all notes have been written, they’re combined for consistency checking. The results are more predictable than you would think, even across different systems.

Setup

The testing for many of these cables was done over a few months on a variety of setups. I’ve used different speakers, power cords, DACs, etc to evaluate performance across different systems.

  • DAC
    • Chord Qutest
    • Chord DAVE
      • BNC 3 & 4 seem to sound better when connected to the Blu2. BluDAVE offers a richer sound over the DAVE alone.
      • If you clip on a few ferrites, connect them at the DAVE’s end.
    • Chord Blu Mk.2
      • Some have mentioned having the upsampling rate at the halfway point trades resolution (and taps) for warmth. I’ve found this to be the case as well.
    • Prism Audio CALLIA
  • Server
    • Innuos Zenith Mk.2 SE
    • Roon
  • Amplifier / Preamp
  • Speakers
    • ATC SCM7
    • Omega Compact Alnico Monitors
    • CSS P215
    • Audience ClairAudient 1+1 V2
  • Power Cords
    • Zenwave Furutech DPS-4
    • Zenwave PL
    • Vovox Textura
    • High Fidelity Cables CT-1U
    • High Fidelity Cables Reveal
    • Audience Au24 SX

The Cables

Welcome to the candy shop! There’s something for everyone. 🙂


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