Offering a specialist digital cable at a relatively low price, Paul Rigby reviews the QED Reference Digital Audio 40
Why would you bother? To have a digital cable, that is? What is the point of it? Two reasons, actually but, at this price point, a good quality digital cable can serve as an ideal tool to help upgrade your CD player (the other reason is to connect a very expensive DAC with a separately bought, specialist and very expensive transport, probably belt driven too).
If your current CD player is getting a little grey around the gills but is basically sound in mechanical terms and provides a decent transport (the bit that holds the CD tray, in essence) and, around the back, the chassis offers a coaxial/SPDIF port, then a digital cable can provide a value for money upgrade option. How? Buy yourself a top quality DAC to replace the one that sits in your ageing CD player. All you need to do is run the digital cable from the old CD player to the new, external, DAC. The CD player then ignores its own internal DAC and looks towards the new DAC instead. You then connect that new DAC to your amplifier and you, in effect, have got yourself a brand new and mightily improved CD player for (hopefully) not that much, at least in relative terms.
Now, you want to get a good quality DAC to make the effort a worthy one. Otherwise, why do it, eh? The thing is, when you connect the older CD player with that new DAC, you want a cable that doesn’t impose any sonic flavour upon the sound. You want a cable that is, in many respects, as transparent as possible. You really don’t want to be be sitting there, listening to that happy hardcore techno remix of John Denver’s Annie’s Song and musing if the sonic signature of your hi-fi is down solely to the transport/DAC or is the cable adding a bit too?
What I’m looking for from this QED cable is the ability to let as much music through as possible, therefore, without adding any distortive noise to the picture. In effect, that is the basis of a good cable: what it doesn’t do. That it shifts a music signal from A-B is a given. I just don’t want any negative stuff added too.
This silver-plated 99.999% Oxygen Free Copper central conductor cable is wrapped with a dual layer, closely woven 99.999% OFC shield braid and aluminium mylar wrap. The cable is terminated with 75 Ohm-matched Digiloc RCA plugs. So how does it sound?
I began the sound test with Dexter Gordon’s Three Little Words that had Gordon’s sax on the right channel with the bass, piano and drums on the left. The combination presented lots of sound testing possibilities in terms of separation and noise contamination measurements.
Listening to the QED, even after the first few seconds, I could hear a distinct sonic behaviour and one that pleased me no end. I don’t know how many digital cables I have heard in this price range and anywhere up to around £300 in which digital cables often add a sense of, not exactly brightness, but a definite spotlight verging on stridency in the upper midrange. This gives an edge, a slight clinical flavour to brass, vocal crescendos and the like. I could have heard the same from Gordon’s sax but never did and, oh, the relief. What I did get from the QED was a tonal balance and, unusually for this price point, a tonal balance that provided a firm, secure and weighty bass response. Gordon’s sax not only offered a sense of play and a sprightly nature but it was firmly rooted in a bass power that always lay underneath. You never lost the feeling that this instrument was being powered by a strong and powerful individual. The sax sounded meaty.
As you might expect then bass not only sounded free and easy but also accompanied the sax with its own sense of power and heft and grounded the music with a solid foundation. The varied percussion also benefitted, being both free and open in the treble-infused cymbal taps and crashes but also the midrange was able to keep up and successfully track the complexities of the percussive skill on offer here. The piano wasn’t left alone, either. It showed a sense of focus and precision that helped this potentially chaotic – in sonic terms – instrument to retain a tight suite of rhythmic patterns that was a pleasure to the ear.
So much for the lightness of touch from jazz. How about a more dynamic track? I played David Gray’s Babylon and was delighted by the midrange insight that produced a welcome textural quality within the Gray vocal delivery, allowing his voice to reveal, quite successfully, the imperfections within. That slightly grated, worn, yet wholly emotive aspect of his voice. This vocal performance contrasted nicely with a rich introductory acoustic guitar that was both warming and tonally complex. I was also happy to hear that the newly enhanced bass emphasis fit easily into the overall arrangement without the bass itself blooming and invading the space of the midrange. The bass kept itself to itself and allowed any fragile and delicate midrange filigree to remain intact.
During Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence, I was also happy with the bass performance on this dynamic track. Despite the comparatively low price and restrictions on build and materials that such a low cable budget provides, the lower frequencies offered a pleasingly analogue-like warmth. This was a powerful bass without any nasty edges or false, clinical spotlights. The bass sounded almost organic in its presentation.
Providing top notch value for money, this digital cable is the perfect excuse to hook up your CD’s transport with a new DAC. With this cable, you can be sure that you will be maximising the DAC’s potential without imposing the sonic signature of the cable upon it. The balanced nature of the cable allows the music itself to dominate instead.
QED Reference Digital Audio 40
Price: £89.95 for 1m
Tel: 01279 501111
GOOD: tonal balance, price, organic bass, midrange clarity
Leema Elements CD Player
Benchmark DAC2 HGC
Rega Brio-R amplifier
Spendor S3/5R speakers
Audiomica Vandini Gold 75 Ohm digital cable