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February 21, 2013

AES EBU 110 Ohm Digital Cable

The very first real-time software MP3 player was a program called WinPlay3. This program was released way back in September of 1995, back in the days of half gig hard drives. As MP3s gained popularity and began to distract computer users from glorious MIDI music, Winamp from Nullsoft was released in 1997 and by the next year, Winamp in its various iterations was downloaded over 3 million times. Several years later, the first version of iTunes was released to the public in 2001. Fast forward to today, a little over a decade later, and computer audio has become very widely accepted and many audiophiles are more likely to fire up a PC than pop open a compact disc player.

The WinPlay3 Program

Because the CD player is going the way of the dodo (obsolescence), audiophiles choose to interface their PC with a DAC (digital audio converter) in order to extract the music in the best sounding way possible. A DAC requires a digital signal be carried from the PC to the external DAC. In some cases the PC has a direct output for a digital signal from the motherboard or sound card, in other cases, a user may choose to use a USB to SPDIF converter box, such as the M2tech HiFace or Musical Fidelity V-Link to name a few.

Digital signals can be carried a few different ways, either optically or via a coaxial cable. Many enthusiasts frown upon optical cables due to perceived jitter and myriad other issues, although I have found the glass ones to be acceptable in the past. Optical cables actually isolate the ground from one device to another which can be a benefit in the case of a dirty ground at the source. The other option, a coaxial cable with a single center conductor isolated with a dielectric and a return which is typically a copper mesh over the dielectric, can be terminated with either an RCA or BNC.  In the case of the AES/EBU, there is still the copper mesh over the dielectric and there are two conductors in the center.

Standard digital coaxial cables are preferred to be rated at 75 ohms, and since BNC connectors are legitimately 75 ohms, they are preferred, but in many cases BNC connectors are not offered and an RCA will suffice. If you are lucky and your PC output and DAC both have an AES/EBU jack, then you’ll have the best possible connection between your devices. AES/EBU coax cable should be rated at 110 ohms.
AES/EBU, also known as AES3, was developed by the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) way before the first software MP3 player in 1985 (although revised in ’92 and ’03) and is effectively the professional version of S/PDIF. Much more additional information regarding the AES/EBU standard, including protocols, time slots and channel status bits can be found at http://en.wikiaudio.org/AES_EBU .

Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 featuring an AES EBU connection

Now that we covered what an AES/EBU is and where it came from, I’ll go ahead and assemble a nice audiophile quality one. One of the fortunate things about the AES/EBU protocol is that is calls for a standard XLR connector, of which there are many audiophile versions floating around, I’m sure some of which use time-corrected flux capacitors and pixie dust gathered during ancient times. I’ll personally be using the DHLabs Silver Sonic XLRs, which is a strange name as the contacts are gold-plated pure OFC copper (no brass!), but they’re great connectors for the dollar, and the DHLabs Silver Sonic D-110 110ohm coax cable, which has silver plated copper conductors within a PTFE dielectric, spacers for constant impedance and a 100% coverage shield.

Silver Sonic D-110 Cable and XLRs

First on the agenda is covering the wire with some nice sleeving. I selected the Techflex brand Carbon Reflex sleeving, which is a polyethylene terepthalate material braided with 3M Ultra reflective monofilament. In simple terms, the weave reflects light and looks pretty impressive.

As noted in the photo below, there are two insulated wires (positive and negative) and a drain wire which connects to the shield for the ground. Also in the center is the Silver Sonic XLR female pieces.

Sleeved with Carbon Reflex

...and here are the Silver Sonic XLR male pieces.

Silver Sonic XLR male connector

Although not necessary, I sleeved the drain wire with Teflon like the other two conductors for uniformity.

Drain wire with Teflon sleeve

These wires are soldered in place on each of the male and female connectors. The ground wire (the drain wire in this case) is soldered to pin 1, the positive wire (red in this case) is soldered to pin 2, and the negative wire (black in this case) is soldered to pin 3. Also note that with the Silver Sonic connectors, slipping the boot over the decorative sleeving requires some patience.

XLR Pin Diagram

Once everything is soldered in place, the barrels of  the DHlabs connectors are slid over the soldered connections and the three screws over each connector are replaced. The two screws over the boot in the back back a very substantial strain relief system. Below you will see the finished digital AES EBU cable. 

Finished digital AES EBU Cable

Hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you are interested in having your own custom digital AES EBU cable (or any other cable) made, please contact Zynsonix for a quote.

The Fine Print:
The above steps detailing the building of a cable are for entertainment purposes only, and not to be performed under any circumstances. The owner of this blog and all associated parties can not / will not be held responsible if you attempt the process posted and cause physical harm to yourself, your surroundings or your property. Please keep this in mind.

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