Toslink Digital Audio & The Lifatec Silflex Optical Cable

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Lifatec Silflex glass optical cable

The transmission of digital audio signals has evolved and improved over the years, resulting in several standard formats for both consumers and professionals. When Sony and Phillips were creating the Red Book CD standard they also included an option for digital audio to be transported between components. While the S/PDIF (Sony Philips Digital Interface) standard was created using coaxial cables (electrical voltages over copper) with RCA connectors, Toshiba proposed a novel solution. Optical light emitted from a red LED was used to create  binary pulses that distinguished digital 1’s and 0’s.

Toslink, or more accurately EIAJ optical, is the standard for using collimated light in the transmission of digital audio. Optical fibers are used as circular dielectric wave-guides that transport optical energy and information.

Early forms of this technology suffered from jitter (phase noise from inaccurate clocking) and data errors or drop outs from bandwidth-limited optical cables. Using digital audio chips with improved clocking and digital inputs aimed at reducing jitter is a good start, but to ensure those binary pulses of light reach your downstream component (i.e. DAC) without error requires a cable capable of delivering the full bandwidth spec of the Toslink standard.

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                                       Lifatec custom machined Toslink connectors

While I use AES digital connections in much of my professional audio work, Toslink optical interfaces are often the only available digital input/output for many consumer devices. Apple TV, Playstation, Roku, and most flat screen TV’s only provide optical outputs. With mixed results from Toslink cables made of plastic, I began researching Toslink cables made from glass fiber strands.

After some digging, I stumbled upon LiFaTeC® GmbH, and their North American partner Lifatec USA. The American firm specializes in using optical borosilicate fibers in lighting and sensing products for the medical market, and since 2000 Lifatec USA has been manufacturing glass Toslink cables in Elbridge New York – named the Silflex glass cables.

To achieve a bandwidth beyond the Toslink spec, Lifatec uses 470 glass fiber optic strands in the Silflex glass cables. These glass fibers are custom built specifically for audio data applications. Keeping these strands in place is a smooth outer jacket that encases the fine fibers called Optisilk. Before terminating the glass strands, the ends are bonded together and polished to a 1 micron optical finish (including the connector ferrule). Then, a custom machined Toslink connector that is both robust and lightweight ensures a tight connection without light leakage.

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Lifatec glass optical cable with mini Toslink connectors on one end (Apple Laptops)

For my testing, a 10 ft Lifatec Silflex cable was used to link digital audio sources with digital to analog converters. I used my Playstation and a Blu-Ray player’s optical output to send digital audio data to several DACs for testing. All of my DACs quickly locked to the incoming signals without a hiccup. Sonically, the sound of the Silflex glass cable was clear and transparent, imparting no sound of it’s own. The most important difference I found, when compared to other optical cables, was the tight fitting connector in the Lifatec cables. I used one optical cable where the manufacturer thought it was a good idea to machine a Toslink connector with an unnecessary amount of bulk, which added weight. This inferior connector (from a popular audiophile manufacturer) would easily fall out of the female Toslink socket, not so with the Lifatec cable.

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The custom machined Lifatec Toslink connector is both lightweight and tight fitting

After spending some time with these cables in my system, it became clear that the Lifatec cable was a well engineered product for optical audio transmission. Fine borosilicate fibers and smooth outer sleeving allow the cable to flex and fit around components with ease. The finely polished ends ensure a strong optical signal, and the robust/lightweight connectors prevent any light leakage. It is rare to find such a well thought out cable with quality in every part of the build. It’s even less common to find these high-end custom designs at real world prices. Without hesitation, it is my pleasure to recommend the Lifatec Silflex cable for all your optical audio connections.

Happy Listening!

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Oyaide Electric Company; A Materials Science Approach to Power Distribution 

Power Distribution Parts by Oyaide Elec & Acrolink Japan

The Japanese hi-fi market exists alongside a healthy DIY audiophile scene. The Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo is a great example. One step off the Sobu line and a world of electronics specialty stores become available for professionals and hobbyists alike. One of my favorites, Oyaide Electric shop provides cables, connectors, and parts for building your own audio, video, and power cables/distributors.

Oyaide is a long established electrical wire company that  has been in business since 1952. Over the last 30 years they have grown to develop products for the audiophile and pro audio markets. Materials for Oyaide Elect. are developed and produced in Japan with a combination of technological innovation and traditional craftsmanship.

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 P-004 Beryllium Copper no plating hand polished by traditional Japanese craftsmen

Oyaide power distribution materials are carefully auditioned and produced to provide tonal options for audio enthusiasts and professional musicians. Both the AC wall outlets and power plugs from Oyaide have been developed with several different base alloys and platings.

Their standard 15 amp Power plug and IEC connections (P-004/C-004) have become available with and without the plating of platinum and palladium. This has allowed me to listen to various power cables (Acrolink, Oyaide) and hear how they interact with different plugs and outlets- giving me a better understanding of what the AC conductors sound, which inludes: dielectric materials, shielding, plugs and ultimately the outlets they interface with.

After investigating several brass alloys, I have come to appreciate the sonic qualities of the Beryllium Copper alloy when used for AC power in highly resolving audio systems. Beryllium Copper is used for its spring like qualities combined with electrical conductivity. This alloy has corrosion resistance and maintains its original shape due to its ductile properties.

The Oyaide R0 AC duplex is made of beryllium copper for the contacts and PBT (with 30% glass) for the thermoplastic outlet face. Mechanically, the Oyaide duplexes provides excellent AC blade retention, and the PBT and glass filled body helps dissipate unwanted vibration. The R1 employs the same construction but adds a plating of platinum and palladium to the AC receptacles base alloy.

Homemade Power distribution with Oyaide MT UB Power tap case, R0 & R1 outlets

To satisfy my curiosity, I built a passive power distributor from Oyaide called the MT UB. This 2 mm thick brass and nickel/chrome plated 2 duplex box exemplifies Japanese craftsmanship. Four separate mounting poles with special washers allow each duplex to be well isolated from each other. I wired it with high-purity Japanese solid core copper and used one R0 un-plated beryllium copper duplex and one R1 plated with the platinum and palladium. I will try and describe the sonic differences of each outlet below.

Oyaide R0 duplex: This un-plated Beryllium Copper AC outlet provides an un-hyped and natural soundstage when used on analog and digital equipment. Compared to several other outlets with various metal platings, the R0 has provided me with the most neutral sonic presentation, a robust and taut distribution of power without any accent in the audio band. The R0 excels at dynamic sound with full energy at all octaves.

Oyaide R1 duplex: Beryllium Copper plated with platinum(0.5 μ) + palladium (0.3 μ). This outlet helps create a sound of focused and refined sonic presentation. While the un-plated R0 maintains an organic flow to the music, the R1 also adds a sense of lowered noise floor with some equipment, and I found that digital gear and video (improved contrast and blacks) benefited most from the R1 outlet. While I still hear a neutral presentation (Sonically), the R1 has a highlighting or spotlighting ability, albiet subtle.

Over the last decade I have been experimenting with various aftermarket power cables and power conditioners. Sometimes with fair results, and sometimes the cables or conditioners have effected the sound negatively. Starting with a materials based approach, I have been able to better understand how different conductors, dialectics, plugs, and  AC receptacles will effect the sound quality of professional and audiophile sound systems. Oyaide Electric company has provided a basis for AC materials to be judged in audio systems, see for yourself.

-Happy Listening

Caution: AC power distributors and cables are serious and should only be built/worked on by trained/licensed professional electricians.