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  • Speedskater
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
It seems that several audio forums and now a home theater forum have had recent threads about how S/PDIF interconnect cables cause jitter.  I thought that S/PDIF was a rather robust system and only poorly designed equipment was affected by the interconnect cable.  So what is the true story?
Kevin Graf :: aka Speedskater

  • DVDdoug
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #1
Jitter is one of those made-up problems for people who just can't believe how audibly perfect simple & cheap digital systems are! 

I don't understand all of the details, but Ias I understand it, the S/PDIF receiver has a buffer and it "cleans-up" jitter on the receiving end.

Ethan Winer[/u] has an article where discusses jitter.  (He's also got a lot of other information debunking audiophile nonsense.)  Or you can search HydrogenAudio for "jitter" and find lots of good info.

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I thought that S/PDIF was a rather robust system
It is!  It would take a very poor or defective, or very long cable, to cause problems.

And generally, when things go wrong digitally they go horribly wrong!  It's not like analog where noise & distortion creep-in slowly.  If you scramble or corrupt a digital number, there's nothing to keep the errors small.  A number can get changed by 10,000% just as easily as it can get changed by 0.01%.
  • Last Edit: 31 March, 2011, 01:42:28 PM by DVDdoug

  • AndyH-ha
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #2
Even if cables introduced extreme jitter (which they don’t) it would not make any difference to the end result. A properly working DAC re-times the data to its own clock, so that clock determines the limit of how much jitter can be introduced into playback.

  • googlebot
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #3
Reclocking is actually pretty rare. Normally the clock is recovered from the S/PDIF signal. But the answers were correct anyway. Jitter is no deal nowadays.

  • pbelkner
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #4
Reclocking is actually pretty rare.

If this is true, then that's exactly what I understand by the term jitter (a random drift in the frequency by which the samples are delivered, the bits themselfs are nor disturbed, of course).

  • cliveb
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  • Developer
S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #5
Any system where the DAC is fed via SPDIF, and which does not have the DAC sending a clock back to the transport (ie. 99%+ of all consumer setups were a separate DAC is in use), must by definition require the DAC to recover a clock from the SPDIF signal. Most DACs these days use one of a variety of strategies to smooth out any short scale timing inaccuracies. The majority will use a long timebase PLL. Some (the Benchmark DAC1 being the best known example) use asynchronous sample rate conversion. A very small number use extensive buffering. But all of these approaches boil down to the same result: the DAC ends up using its own clock that runs at the same average rate as that of the clock in the incoming SPDIF stream, and where any timing inaccuracies are "smoothed out" over a much longer period. But they are all still affected to some degree by variations in that incoming clock.

And it is certainly the case that different cables used for the SPDIF connection can affect the jitter on the signal.

All that said, there have been properly conducted listening tests to determine the audibility of jitter. Two obvious examples are:

Benjamin & Gannon.
  Theoretical and audible effects of jitter on digital audio quality.
  105th AES Convention, 1998
  Jitter added to digital signal between transport and DAC with a hardware device.
  Conclusions: uncorrelated jitter inaudible below 10nS rms on pure tones;
              uncorrelated jitter inaudible below 20nS rms on music signal

Ashihara, Kiryu et al.
  Detection threshold for distortions due to jitter on digital audio.
  Acoust. Sci. & Tech. 26, 1 (2005)
  Jitter simulated in the digital domain.
  Conclusions: uncorrelated jitter inaudible below 250nS on music signal.

Notice how *massive* are the levels of jitter that proved to be inaudible, and compare that to jitter levels in modern systems (typically below 1nS, good ones below 100pS). Jitter simply isn't the bogeyman it's made out to be.

  • Dirk95100
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #6
Because cables are passive, they can not cause jitter.
They do affect jitter. This is because a cable is a lowpass filter and therefore the signal transition from low to high and visa versa becomes more uncertain. So jitter is increased, but no one can hear the artifacts.


  • Notat
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #7
There have been some documented problems with clock recovery through these digital interfaces. Much of it has now been addressed through more sophisticated clock recovery by receivers and improved DACs with greatly reduced jitter sensitivity. I believe the current consensus is that things are good now.

It is, of course, an unprovable assertion to say that no one can hear any flaws in these systems. Certain listeners will always claim to hear differences. From there you have a long road to hoe to verify that's true and, if so, to determine what they're actually hearing.

  • Dirk95100
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #8
It is, of course, an unprovable assertion to say that no one can hear any flaws in these systems. Certain listeners will always claim to hear differences. From there you have a long road to hoe to verify that's true and, if so, to determine what they're actually hearing.


Jitter raises the noise floor. So it can degrade a 20 bit converter into a converter with 16 bit noise floor.
But listening tests have shown that the amount of jitter that is audible is a factor 1000 times higher than my theoretical example. Most converters are close to the theoretical limmit. So we can safely say: No one can hear it.

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #9
Because cables are passive, they can not cause jitter.


Since a large number of things can be called "cables", this is like saying that no passive component can cause jitter, which is false.

There is an *unwritten* law of electrical engineering that says "Every circuit is, in the final analysis, a low pass filter." That is because it takes unbounded energy to power a real-world circuit that has an unbounded hf bandpass.

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They do affect jitter. This is because a cable is a low pass filter and therefore the signal transition from low to high and visa versa becomes more uncertain. So jitter is increased, but no one can hear the artifacts.


Slowing down signal transitions most definitely does not aLWAYS cause jitter. In fact most digital outputs include low pass filters so that they will pass legal requirements for EMI, such as FCC Part 15. Slowing down transitions may  make a link more susceptible to jitter, but the jitter has some other direct cause.

Dunn suggests  some boundaries that relate to this in a 1993 AES paper about jitter due to digital interfaces.

Saying that jitter can never be audible is false. I've built passive circuits that interacted with certain commercial digital audio gear to add various amounts of jitter to digital audio signals. Extremely large amounts of jitter could be added, and they could be easily heard because jitter is FM distortion which is also known as vibrato in music.

I was able to make good recordings sound undeniably wavery if the equipment receiving the signal lacked modern levels of jitter resistance. I have an older Denon DAC that has almost no jitter resistance. In contrast a more modern digital audio decoder based on technology commonly used in modest but modern  surround receivers reduced the added jitter to very, very low levels. The addition of jitter could not be detected in its audio output.

Jitter is one of those things that can be reduced as much as is needed provided that the jitter is not so bad that the signal cannot be received at all. CD players are a good example of this. The digital signal that comes off the disc is usually full of jitter, but a fairly simple buffering arrangement reduces it as low as is desired.
  • Last Edit: 01 April, 2011, 11:06:27 AM by Arnold B. Krueger

  • googlebot
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #10
Saying that jitter can never be audible is false. I've built passive circuits that interacted with certain commercial digital audio gear to add various amounts of jitter to digital audio signals. Extremely large amounts of jitter could be added, and they could be easily heard because jitter is FM distortion which is also known as vibrato in music.


I doubt that jitter generally causes a vibrato type of effect. Jitter testing is just usually done with periodic signals. Of course, one can catch periodic signals over a wire, as in a ground loop, but that's just one possibility out of many.
  • Last Edit: 01 April, 2011, 12:33:27 PM by googlebot

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #11
Saying that jitter can never be audible is false. I've built passive circuits that interacted with certain commercial digital audio gear to add various amounts of jitter to digital audio signals. Extremely large amounts of jitter could be added, and they could be easily heard because jitter is FM distortion which is also known as vibrato in music.


I doubt that jitter generally causes a vibrato type of effect. Jitter testing is just usually done with periodic signals. Of course, one can catch periodic signals over a wire, as in a ground loop, but that's just one possibility out of many.


Jitter caused by crappy clock-recovery circuits is signal dependent and causes variation in the DAC word clock. This causes signal dependent frequency modulation.

(But as stated by others, it's not audible unless your equipment is horribly broken crap)

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #12
Ethan Winer[/u] has an article where discusses jitter.  (He's also got a lot of other information debunking audiophile nonsense.)


Thanks for the referral. There's even more such information and audio examples in my hour-long AES Audio Myths video.

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method

  • krabapple
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #13
don't forget, audibility of jitter is spectrum-dependent too.

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showpost.ph...p;postcount=163

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #14
Saying that jitter can never be audible is false. I've built passive circuits that interacted with certain commercial digital audio gear to add various amounts of jitter to digital audio signals. Extremely large amounts of jitter could be added, and they could be easily heard because jitter is FM distortion which is also known as vibrato in music.


I doubt that jitter generally causes a vibrato type of effect.


In the real world of digital audio, that would be a trusim because jitter generally has no audible effects at all. ;-)

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According to Zwicker and Fastl, audible  FM distortion usually manifests itself as "roughness". The vibrato effect only exists when the modulating frrequency is relatively low.

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Jitter testing is just usually done with periodic signals.


As I read the papers, not only is the modulating test signal periodic, it is often a pure tone.  This facilitiates characterizing and probably optmizes the sensitivity of the ear.

Quote
Of course, one can catch periodic signals over a wire, as in a ground loop, but that's just one possibility out of many.


I measured jitter in a goodly number of sitautions for my old PCAVTech web site. Real world jitter often involved a modulating frequency that was related to the local power line frequency. Other common modulating frequencies were related to data block sizes. Another set of possibilties related to the frequency of the audio signal being transmitted.

In Dunn's 10/1992 (not 1993 as I erroneously mentioned above) AES Conference paper Figure 9 suggests that the ear is much more sensitive to jitter with frequencies below 250 Hz . This tends to agree with Zwicker and Fastl.



  • Speedskater
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #15
Ethan Winer[/u] has an article where discusses jitter.  (He's also got a lot of other information debunking audiophile nonsense.)

Thanks for the referral. There's even more such information and audio examples in my hour-long AES Audio Myths video.
--Ethan

The people that want to believe that jitter is a very big problem, won't watch an hour (or even a few minutes) long video.
And it's hard to quote a video in a response.
Kevin Graf :: aka Speedskater

  • DVDdoug
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #16
That's a different subject...  We were just trying to answer your question...

If someone "wants to believe something" and they don't have an open mind...  Well, what are you gonna' do? 

    Unfortunately, the "audiophile community" seems to be dominated by people like that.

The video is for people who have an interest in that kind of thing, or for people who are curious.  I really enjoyed it!

  • Notat
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #17
Jitter raises the noise floor. So it can degrade a 20 bit converter into a converter with 16 bit noise floor.

That is the case for a well-behaved converter fed random jitter (phase noise). Modern converters are generally well-behaved. This was not always the case. Not all jitter is purely noisy.

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #18
The people that want to believe that jitter is a very big problem, won't watch an hour (or even a few minutes) long video.


Absolutely, you can't change the mind of a believer no matter how compelling your evidence. But I mostly don't write (or make videos) for them. I write for people who ask legitimately if the various advice they read over and over in forums and magazines are true. A lot of people genuinely want to know if they should worry about jitter, or power "conditioner" products etc.

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #19
Ethan Winer[/u] has an article where discusses jitter.  (He's also got a lot of other information debunking audiophile nonsense.)

Thanks for the referral. There's even more such information and audio examples in my hour-long AES Audio Myths video.
--Ethan

The people that want to believe that jitter is a very big problem, won't watch an hour (or even a few minutes) long video.
And it's hard to quote a video in a response.


Many of tht people who think jitter is a big problem, don't realize that the analog world was chock-full of it.  If you want a real thrill, calculate the jitter in ps that corresponds to 0.05% flutter and wow which is a SOTA number for analog tape and vinyl.

  • pdq
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #20
As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, 1.8 seconds (33.3 RPM) times 0.05% equals nine hundred million picoseconds.

S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #21
If you want a real thrill, calculate the jitter in ps that corresponds to 0.05% flutter and wow which is a SOTA number for analog tape and vinyl.


As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, 1.8 seconds (33.3 RPM) times 0.05% equals nine hundred million picoseconds.


Indeed. But remember that analog timing errors are always acceptable because, well, because they're analog!

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method

  • AliceWonder
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #22
That's a different subject...  We were just trying to answer your question...

If someone "wants to believe something" and they don't have an open mind...  Well, what are you gonna' do? 

    Unfortunately, the "audiophile community" seems to be dominated by people like that.

The video is for people who have an interest in that kind of thing, or for people who are curious.  I really enjoyed it!


I've only watched a little bit so far but already have enjoyed it.

The very beginning where they explain how listening for certain things steers your hearing - that is exactly why double-blind tests are so critical. The way our brains work, we often will hear things differently and be honest when we say so, even if the audio is identical, if we are listening for a specific thing, which we tend to do when the listening test is not blind.

  • Martel
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #23
In case someone is so worried about jitter, why not use line-out -> line-in?
IE4 Rockbox Clip+ AAC@192; HD 668B/HD 518 Xonar DX FB2k FLAC;

  • Paul_70
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S/PDIF Cable and Jitter
Reply #24
Jitter in the digital domain is nonsense.